Legal sports betting was expected to arrive in 2020 in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a serious divot in that the timeline. The sports betting train has once again picked up steam with H3977, a bill that would legalize and regulated retail and online sports betting has cleared the House and is heading to the State Senate for a vote.
With Governor Charlie Baker fully on board, sports betting is almost surely coming to the untapped Massachusetts market that includes one of the nation’s largest cities in Boston. “Beantown” has one of the country’s most rabid fan bases and teams with lengthy sports pedigrees in the Celtics (NBA), Red Sox (MLB), New England Patriots (NFL), and Bruins (NHL).
This page will review in detail the status of legal sports betting in Massachusetts, and what sports bettors in Mass can expect in the future.
If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with gambling and needs support, call 1-800-327-5050 or visit https://helplinema.org to speak with a trained specialist free and confidentially 24/7. LiveChat with a GameSense Advisor at GameSenseMA.com or call 1-800-GAM-1234.
Legal online sportsbooks in Massachusetts: Coming soon(ish)
With the bill clearing the Massachusetts House Of Representatives in overwhelming fashion where there were only 3 no votes and 156 for yes, the House hopes it sends a message to the Senate that the people of Massachusetts are indeed ready for sports betting.
Governor Baker had submitted his own proposal in 2020 for what he would want in an online and retail sports betting market, and the new bill has many similarities, making it almost a sure fire quick signature when the bill eventually hits the Governors desk. Some fees are slightly higher and the tax rate may have jumped 1.5%, but overall, the Governor’s office should be happy with the bill if it makes it out of the Senate untouched.
H3977 calls for each license to retail casinos in the state to be allowed up to 3 skins (brands) and would cost $5 million dollars to apply. Stand alone mobile sportsbooks such as DraftKings and FanDuel, who both are headquartered in the state, would also be able to apply for a license. The House estimates that the state could bring in around $70 million in the application process alone as the application fee of $5 million would be paid up front.
Online sports bets would be taxed at a rate of 15% and retail bets at 12.5%. The early estimates of state revenue are around $60 million a year, but that number drops to around $30 million if college sports are not allowed to be wagered on.
An aggressive timeline for the first bets to be taken would be late 2021, but early 2022 is the more likely scenario.
Getting started at legal online books in the Commonwealth
Once legalization does occur, regulations will need to follow. These are some of the restrictions that will almost certainly be in place.
Massachusetts is expected to maintain an age minimum of 21 to place bets on sporting events, which is also the current minimum age to place bets at casinos in the the state. The minimum age for placing bets on lottery, horse betting, and bingo is 18.
Physical location boundaries
Massachusetts is expected to use geolocation security technology similar to other states that have legalized sports betting at both physical retail locations and via online gaming markets. That means mobile devices and computers used to access and interact with sportsbooks have software that verifies a bettor is physically within the boundaries of the commonwealth.
The bettor does not need to be a resident of Massachusetts to place a wager, but simply be in Massachusetts at the time the wager is placed. This means a strong WiFi or cellular signal should provide a positive geolocation confirmation to place a wager, though attempting to place a wager too close to a state border has the potential to be an issue.
Beyond age and location requirements, most people prohibited from betting are individuals specified in the bill as not being allowed to place wagers. Additionally, the bill enables the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to ban people or have persons place themselves on a self-exclusion list. Such lists exist as a safety mechanism for individuals to protect themselves from their own gambling problems.
In terms of wagers placed, there are certain limitations below the professional sports level. Betting on college sports is restricted to Division I teams, while in-play betting on college athletes and wagers on amateur sports, eSports, and Olympic events are still in the process of being decided on.
Registering a MA sports betting account
With the proposed bill calling for “online-only operators,” which are sportsbooks with no physical presence, the expectation is Massachusetts will allow remote registration. That allows instant access to the sports betting markets through online registrations with both online-only operators and physical retail sportsbooks via associated online “skins” (brands).
For online accounts, bettors will likely need to provide their name and the last four digits of their Social Security number in addition to a home address and date of birth as a means of age verification.
Deposits and withdrawals
Once your account is created and active, the final requirement is to deposit some dough. Sportsbooks have established a wide set of options to allow players to access whatever method is most convenient to them, and Massachusetts is no exception.
This list of banking choices includes, but is not limited to:
- Checking (ACH)
- Online banking (using your online credentials with your bank)
- Digital payments by way of eWallet services such as PayPal
- Wire transfers
- Deposits at physical locations.
Credit card deposits may or may not work, based on the issuing bank, and in any case, will not be allowed for direct wagering purposes.
The land-based casinos and future online sportsbooks
In the proposed law, both Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield can offer up to three online skins, while Plainridge Park Casino can offer two with its status as a slots parlor.
|Casino||Casino launch date||Expected sportsbook(s)|
|Encore Boston Harbor||June 23, 2019||Wynn|
|MGM Springfield||August 24, 2018||BetMGM|
|Plainridge Park Casino||March 17, 1999||Barstool Sportsbook, Penn National Interactive|
That’s potentially eight right there, and there may be just five (5) online-only operators permitted in the state. There will be many vying for the right to go online, including:
- DraftKings Sportsbook
- FanDuel Sportsbook
- FOX Bet
- Caesars Sportsbook
There are two off-track betting locations in Massachusetts — Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park. Of the two, Suffolk Downs appears better situated for sports betting thanks to a previous agreement with FanDuel to offer wagers on horse races through its mobile apps.
Types of wagers
The expectation is Massachusetts will offer a sports betting menu that consists of the standard options, including:
- Futures bets
- In-game betting
- Moneyline bets
- Spread bets
- Player prop bets
- Totals (over/under)
- Much more
Laws and regulations
The United States banned all sports wagering except for some small grandfathered markets in 1992 through the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). In 2012, the state of New Jersey filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bill, and after a lengthy legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the act in a ruling on May 14, 2018.
While some states had already pieced together laws and regulations to quickly enter the sports betting market, Massachusetts took a more deliberate approach. In January 2019, three comprehensive bills — including one from Baker — were submitted along with two supporting bills. All three bills were mobile-friendly and did not require in-person registration and tabbed the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as the regulatory agency to oversee sports betting. Clearly, none of the initial bills panned out, but H3977 is loosely based on these initially proposed bills.
The current frontrunner bill
The new bill, H3977, establishes tax rates of 12.5% for gross revenue generated by retail sports betting and 15% for mobile sports betting. It also includes licenses for retail casinos, slot parlours, off track betting and stand alone mobile sportsbooks.
It will take $5 million up front to apply for a license and once approved, each license will be allowed to offer 3 skins (brands) per license. This bill does include wagering on college and amateur sports (Olympics etc) for now, which was not included in the initial offerings from 2020. The bill passed through the House with a vote of 156-3, and is now being sent to the Senate for approval.
History of gambling and betting in Massachusetts
Legal betting in Massachusetts dates back to 1934 with Wonderland Greyhound Park and Taunton Dog Track. The Raynham Greyhound track opened its doors seven years later, and by 1981, Taunton closed and combined operations with Raynham. The tracks, though, closed in 2009 when the commonwealth banned dog racing.
Horse racing was also legalized in 1934, but it was not until 1947 that harness racing began at Bay State Raceway, which later became known as Foxboro Raceway. Suffolk Downs also had harness racing from 1959 to 1970. Foxboro closed in 1997, and two years later Plainridge opened. Parimutuel betting continues at Plainridge and Suffolk Downs.
Lotteries have a lengthy history in the commonwealth, even predating the creation of the United States. When it was an English province in 1745, a public lottery was authorized to help pay for the Crown’s war, and similar lotteries were established until 1761, when they were banned by the Lords of Trade.
Lotteries resurfaced following the American Revolution until yet another ban was enacted in 1833. The Massachusetts General Court then established the current Lottery in 1971, with the first drawings held the following year.
Room for growth online
The inclusion of online-only sportsbook operators appears to be a boon for DraftKings and FanDuel, who both have their national headquarters based in Boston. The online giants are both dominant players in online sports betting and DraftKings is the sole sportsbook for wagering in neighboring New Hampshire. With only five other online-only operator licenses available in total, there figures to be intense competition.