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One Year Later: Bay State Becomes Sports Betting Bellwether

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 9 mins

One Year Later: Bay State Becomes Sports Betting Bellwether

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One year after the Bay State's legislature approved the Sports Wagering Act, Massachusetts sports betting has become a $2 billion industry. 

A year ago Tuesday, on Aug. 1, 2022, Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano Tweeted that members of the House and Senate had come to a deal clearing the way for legal betting on professional and most college sports. 

The bill was signed into law nine days later by then Gov. Charlie Baker, who is now president of the NCAA. Once the law became effective, the implementation and regulation of legal sports betting in the Commonwealth was in the hands of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

In the past year, the MGC has held more than 140 public meetings, hearings, and discussions concerning sports-betting related matters. 

“Over the past year the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has worked diligently to stand up sports wagering in the Commonwealth and bring legalized sports gambling to Massachusetts patrons. The Commission put a premium on responsible gaming and consumer protections and through a dedication to a transparent public process launched this new industry in January. On behalf of my fellow commissioners, we appreciate the trust the legislature has put in us to regulate this industry,” MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein told Bookies.com Monday. 

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A Quick Look At The Players In Massachusetts 

Massachusetts has eight mobile and three retail operators.

Here's the rundown.

Category 1: Casino Retail (Operator)

  • Encore Boston Harbor (WynnBET)
  • MGM Springfield (BetMGM)
  • Plainridge Park (Barstool)

Category 2: Racing Retail

  • Raynham Park - Awaiting Approval (Caesars Sportsbook)
  • Suffolk Downs - Pending (TBA)

Category 3: Mobile

  • DraftKings
  • FanDuel
  • BetMGM
  • Barstool Sportsbook
  • Caesars
  • WynnBET
  • Fanatics
  • Betr
  • Bally Bet (2023 Launch)
  • Betway (Q1 2024 Launch)

The first year of legal sports betting in Massachusetts has proven to be a bellwether nationwide as to where the industry stands and where it may be headed. Here’s a look at some of the some of the good, bad, and not-so-pretty of the first year of legal sports betting in the Commonwealth.

Massachusetts Sports Betting Year 1: The Good 

  • The overall betting handle in the Bay State will have surpassed $2 billion when July betting figures are released on August 15. The last figures reported on July 15 had $1.957 billion in total handle in retail and mobile betting this year. Retail betting began on January 31 and mobile betting commenced March 10. 
  • Massachusetts in May moved up to No. 2 in the nation in terms of betting handle per capita in the United States of all the jurisdictions that have legalized betting since the reversal of PASPA in 2018. It trailed only New York in that category. 
  • Since it began, legal sports betting has generated $39.913 million in tax revenue after just 113 days of mobile betting and four months plus one day of retail betting. Projections had the state making between $60-70 million in sports betting tax revenue per year. That number will be easily surpassed most likely by the end of September.

    One Year Later: Bay State Becomes Sports Betting Bellwether 1

  • DraftKings has dominated the market in terms of mobile handle (see above). Through June, that latest figures available, DraftKings has accounted for nearly 50% of the total handle in the state. The book handled more than $920 million in wagers. 
  • The state offers bettors a healthy and competitive marketplace. Options are limited in the other five New England states. Betting has been legalized, but has yet to begin in Maine and Vermont. New Hampshire has just one operator – DraftKings. With the addition of betr and Fanatics, non-traditional sites are available for consumers, as well. 
  • Sports betting has been part of the Massachusetts landscape for more than 100 years. A betting riot occurred at Fenway Park in 1917 during a game in which Babe Ruth was pitching for the Red Sox. The Boston College point-shaving scandal of 1978-79 was immortalized in the movie “Goodfellas.” The legalization of sports betting not only shed light on the practice, it gave refuge to bettors who wanted to operate in a legal environment, it allowed the state to get its take in taxes and fund various programs for problem gamblers. 
  • Despite the impressive betting handles, most books continue to operate in the red due to their customer acquisition costs. But the numbers are improving. Nationally, BetMGM reported  $944 million net revenue from its online sports betting and casinos in the first half of the year. The overall hold (or betting profit) has risen in recent months after the Boston Bruins and Celtics stumbled in the postseason, and the Red Sox languished around . 500 until recent weeks. 

Massachusetts Sports Betting Year 1: The Bad

  • All three retail operators have been fined for taking illegal college wagers concerning teams based in Massachusetts. State law prohibits betting on in-state colleges unless they are participating in tournaments featuring at least four teams. MGM Springfield had inadvertently placed Harvard University in Connecticut. The Barstool book at Plainridge Park Casino book took bets on Merrimack College games after it listed the Andover-based school as being in Florida. The MGC has held adjudicatory hearings concerning potential violations committed by DraftKings and PSI/Barstool. No finding have been issued in those cases.
  • Multiple skins are still available, costing the state millions in potential licensing fees. There are three stand-alone mobile (Category 3) licenses available. In addition, each casino in the state has an additional mobile license available through a partnership. Meanwhile, neither one of the state’s two Category 2 (parimutuel) operators have yet to launch either retail or mobile books. Raynham Park’s retail sports book run by Caesars is expected to open in the fall. That license is expected to be finally approved on Tuesday in a third day of hearings going back to June. Suffolk Downs has yet to submit its official application for its retail book. 
  • More than 30 operators initially expressed interest in entering the Massachusetts market. Much like the broader sports betting market, consolation and other economic factors shrunk that number. Maxim and Fubo have since shut down. PlayUp ceased operations in the U.S. last week. PointsBetUSA was recently acquired by Fanatics. PointsBetUSA and Bet365 withdrew their applications to operate in the Bay State. Bet365 cited the restrictions imposed on operators. 
  • Operators angered both the general public and regulators with a tsunami of advertising in the weeks leading up to the mobile launch, and for several weeks thereafter. Regulators have threatened to limit advertising. They subsequently forced operators to put age restrictive language on permanent stand-alone logos visible inside venues like Fenway Park and TD Garden. That is a first in the nation.
  • Third-party affiliates face unique restrictions in Massachusetts, including a ban on any agreements that include revenue sharing deals. That is a common practice used allowed in most other jurisdictions.
  • Sharps continue to complain about random limits they face at legal books in Massachusetts. Licensees have the right to refuse any wager for any reason. And the ability to limit players as they seem fit. 

Massachusetts Sports Betting Year 1: The Not-So-Pretty

  • A June 7 adjudicatory hearing concerning a “Big Cat Can’t Lose Parlay” promo run by Barstool for one day on March 10 turned into a theatre of the absurd. Attorneys for Penn Sports Interactive, the licensee of the Barstool online sportsbook, trashed their own employee, Dan “Big Cat” Katz, by ridiculing his betting acumen. It was part of the argument that the promotion was satirical given Katz’s “terrible” reputation as a gambler. The chief attorney for PSI and Stein held a serious discussion concerning the so-called “Cap’n Crunch Crunch Berry” defense. It centers on the fact that it is obvious to a reasonable person that the cereal does not contain berries. A final decision on the issue is pending.
  • With nearly all of the MGC meetings held in public view, the sausage making wasn’t always pretty. At one point, several regulators did not know what the AFC and NFC Championship Games meant and where they landed on the calendar. One regulator famously asked: “What is a point spread?” during a discussion of the state’s betting catalog. 
  • Barstool Sports and its founder, David Portnoy, were targeted unfairly throughout the regulatory process. The MGC had its sights set on Barstool as far back as February of 2022, months before the Sports Wagering Act was passed. Portnoy was attacked on several occasions by Commissioner Eileen O’Brien over accusations concerning his personal behavior. Portnoy has denied all of the allegations. None have resulted in either civil litigation or criminal penalties. Barstool’s parent company PSI was a casino and parimutuel licensee in Massachusetts through Plainridge for several years. It was still held to different standard throughout the regulatory process. Things go so tense that Penn Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden dropped a not-so-veiled threat of legal action during a meeting in December. 

About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.