After years of trying, Massachusetts passed a bill to legalize sports betting last summer, and after six months, it has seen the first bets placed legally in the state. It has been one of the more sedate launches so far, due in no small part because the Bay State is taking a two-track approach to its launch. The sports betting bill led to the foundation of the Massachusetts Gambling Commission, and one of its first decisions was to ensure that retail sports betting and online platforms went live separately. February 1 was the date that saw the retail element of the bill go live.
This has meant that people resident in the state can bet on sports at casinos, of which the state has three. It’s not going to be practical for everyone in the state, which has seven million residents, to drive to one of those three casinos when they want to place a bet. But it will give the state’s authorities the chance to evaluate the impact of sports betting before the launch of online platforms, which is scheduled for the second week in March. That is expected to be a much busier period, as it will be legal for any eligible adult to place bets from their phones and other connected devices.
It may not have been the news that Massachusetts residents wanted to hear, as online betting was not made available in time for them to bet on the NFL playoffs or Super Bowl, but there will be online betting in time for the college basketball playoffs – the legendary March Madness period – as well as the close of the pro basketball season, which may involve the state’s Boston Celtics. It will also permit bets to be placed on the opening games of the baseball and hockey seasons, with the Red Sox and Bruins available to bet on as their seasons get underway.
The mantra of the Gaming Commission, from the moment it came into being, was that they wanted betting to be done right, not quickly. It’s fair to say that casino-based sports betting has had a smooth start to its existence, and representatives have been keen to underline that making sports betting available is not a matter of “flicking a switch”. Things have needed to be cautiously managed, and they will hope that the extra six weeks will ensure that online sports betting can be as confidently launched when the time comes.
Naysayers have been concerned that the implementation of legal sports betting in the state would bring with it issues related to problem gambling. However. those responsible with bringing it to a point of legality have argued that even while betting was illegal in the state, Massachusetts had more sports betting taking place than even some states with legalized wagering. With the implementation of legal sportsbooks and the finance that will come from this development, it is hoped that problem gambling – which the Massachusetts congress has been keen to treat as a public health issue – can be addressed more completely.
Now, as the clock ticks down towards March 10 of this year, eyes will be on the early results from the casinos that are managing the retail launch of sports betting. Positive momentum from Stage 1 of the launch will be the shot in the arm needed for the second stage to take shape as advocates hope it will.