Massachusetts, the latest state to offer sports betting, has no local team in the Super Bowl (for once). But it didn’t stop bettors from casting their wagers for Philadelphia and Kansas City, the two Super Bowl combatants. They could also bet in-play props like who will throw the first touchdown pass : Jalen Hurts for the Eagles or Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs.
And so the Bay State joins those states where placing a bet on sports is a legal activity. Taken together, these states now represent more than half the country.
At least that’s the hope as sportsbooks at MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor and Plainridge Park opened their doors. The state’s first wager was placed at the BetMGM Sportsbook & Lounge by Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Boston Bruins hockey star Ray Bourque. In addition to Bourque, New England Patriots’ legends Ty Law and Rob Ninkovich showed up for the celebration.
The sportsbook at MGM Springfield features a 45-foot LED viewing wall and four betting windows. The resort also houses 18 sports betting kiosks scattered throughout the casino. Bettors can use their MGM Rewards card and when they have enough play on their cards, they can earn accommodations at some 20 MGM Resorts locales, including Bellagio and ARIA in Las Vegas and Borgata in Atlantic City.
“As a strong proponent of MGM Springfield and their marquee sportsbook, I am honored to join with MGM Springfield President Chris Kelley, BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt, and Bruins and Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, to make the first sports wager in the state. Maybe I’ll pick a winner for the Super Bowl,” Sarno said.
Said Kelley, “We are incredibly grateful for the tireless work to bring this historic bill to the finish line, and to the gaming commission for crafting the necessary regulations.”
Regulators with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) put the final changes right up to the 10 a.m. opening time to make sure each venue had certificates of operations.
“We had our eyes on this targeted deadline, and we made it,” Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein told MassLive. “We’ve been committed to meeting the Legislature’s expectations and vision as we’ve worked to stand up this new industry, presenting a product for all of you bettors that we think will be really exciting, engaging and fun.”
The first bet at Encore Boston Harbor occurred in the WynnBET Kiosk Room. Guests were selected to do the honors. When the bets were placed, athletes from various Boston championship teams placed the initial bets at the windows inside the WynnBET Sportsbook, according to the Boston Herald.
At Encore, House Speaker Ronald Mariano, who put $50 on both the Celtics and Bruins to win it all, said MGC regulators were “very slow and methodical” in setting up the sports betting industry.
“They wanted to get it right,” Mariano said. “They had plenty of examples of other states to use, so I really think they could have gone a little faster. But obviously, they erred on the side of caution and took the time and wanted to make sure that there were no major mistakes.“
What legal sports betting in Massachusetts offers are protections for those susceptible to addiction, like deposit limits or voluntary self-exclusion.
“There is no bookie that I know that will check you into a rehab to help you beat your gambling addiction,” Mariano said. “There is no bookie in the world that is going to give you an extension on what you owe because you have a gambling problem.”
The Commonwealth gets a cut of 15 percent for bets at the casino and 20 percent for those made online when that market goes live in March.
In addition to the more popular sports we know and love, bettors can also wager on Australian rules football, badminton, biathlon, billiards, bowling, bull riding, cycling, darts, disc, floorball, futsal, golf, handball, field hockey, netball, pesäpallo, rowing, rugby, snooker, table tennis and water polo.
“The issue was always that we had our surrounding states, our bordering states, moving much faster than us. This catches us up. I think, ultimately, our law is better, and the ultimate result is going to be stronger,” said former Senator Eric Lesser, who led final negotiations.
“It’s good for MGM. The spin-off effects can be very, very good for the city of Springfield, and it’s good for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Sarno said.
Former Gov. Charlie Baker, who now heads up the NCAA, consistently wrote an expected $35 million in tax revenue into several of his state budgets.
In an interview last week, Judd-Stein said there is no “crystal ball” for financial expectations.
“We have not made any kind of public statements about what we expect with respect to revenues over time,” she said. “We certainly assess the economic impact that each applicant might have on that would maximize the benefit for the Commonwealth.”
In related Massachusetts news, Rachel Volberg spoke at length with WBUR about the arrival of sports betting and its potential problems.
Volberg, a research professor at the UMASS Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, serves as the Principal Investigator on the MGC’s Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts.
Volberg believes the impact of sports betting will be moderate. That said, there are certain groups that could be vulnerable as a result of a lack of familiarity with gambling or from being targeted by operators.
These include young adults, women, immigrants, college athletes and people in recovery from a gambling problem.
Adolescents: “With legalization, advertising is going to be happening and social media influencers will be influencing,” Volberg said. “Adolescents are going to follow those leads and…they are more likely to experience harm because of that lack of experience.”
Same goes for young adults, particularly those just reaching legal age. “They still will have relatively little experience.”
Women: “The research that I’ve reviewed suggests that women are not necessarily very comfortable going into and staying in a physical sports book, something like at the casino. But since sports betting is going to be available online [soon] and women are much more comfortable gambling online, that is a concern.”
Sportsbook operators are focusing on women to increase the percentage of the population that bets on sports. “And again, because of their lack of experience, women may be more likely to get into difficulties.”
Immigrants: “Their vulnerability speaks to a lack of comfort within a new culture. “They don’t speak English fluently or the fact that they don’t have many outlets in their communities for recreation means that their recreational opportunities are limited.”
College athletes: “I certainly am quite concerned about betting on college sports in general, because of what it means to the integrity of the games.”
People in recovery: “The strongest predictor of developing a gambling problem is having had one in the past.”
Researchers see individual harms and harms to the community as separate. “Individual harms can include mental health issues, depression or anxiety, as well as physical experiences of stress. “
Community harm, which has to do not just with financial issues that an individual may cause in order to get money to gamble, also includes financial crimes.
“One of the main barriers to seeking help is that they’re so embarrassed and ashamed at the idea that they haven’t been able to take care of their finances,” Volberg said.
“We need to understand that a gambling problem is not only a financial problem, there’s good evidence that the same brain mechanisms that affect people when they have an addiction to a drug or a substance like alcohol or nicotine, those same brain mechanisms work in the same way with gambling.”
For those who take a pre-emptive approach to sports betting and want to give it a try for the first time yet avoid problems:
“Go to the bank. Take out exactly how much you’re willing to lose, which is going to be entertainment money. Take that money with you. Leave all of your cards that you use to access money at home before you go to gamble. Oh, and then another good idea is to not go alone, but to go with some friends and make one of them the designated non gambler,” Volberg said.