Though there remains obstacles ahead, it would appear that meaningful movement is being made on the Massachusetts legal sports betting front.
Despite longstanding interest from several key lawmakers in bringing legal wagering on professional and collegiate sporting events to Massachusetts, the state has taken a measured approach with crafting its legislation.
Recent events, however, suggest that enough meaningful progress has been made that Massachusetts will soon be poised to join New England neighbors Rhode Island and New Hampshire, along with major east coast states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey in legalizing both in-person and online sports betting.
In February, state lawmakers unveiled H 4559, a bill that would give the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies control over the state’s sports betting regulations.
H 4559 stipulates that those who are at least 21 years of age and physically present within the state’s limits would be allowed to place legal wagers on both professional and D-1 college sports.
Those bettors would not, however, be permitted to wager on specific player outcomes for collegiate sports. Betting on eSports, Olympics, and other fantasy sports would also be prohibited.
Increasing the prospects that the bill moves forward is that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker firmly backs online sports betting. In fact, he even introduced his own bill in 2019 and has accounted for its implementation in the state’s 2021 FY budget. This is quite different than what we’ve seen in New York where Governor Andrew Cuomo has sat diametrically opposed to online sports betting.
Top state officials anticipate that legal sports betting will generate roughly $20 million in added revenue.
The Forecast For Legal Online Sports Betting in Massachusetts
H 4559, a combination of nearly a dozen previous proposals, also brings to light what Massachusetts sports betting will look like upon its launch. Wagering would be permitted for three casino properties, horse tracks, and the state’s lone slot parlor.
The retail casino locations will be afforded three different skins, meaning casinos can work with up to three different online operators, while the slot parlor will be given two. More on this in a moment.
Almost certainly, sports betting would be available upon state launch at Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park Casino (Penn National Gaming).
As for mobile betting, which is truly the key component to the legislation, the state would provide as many as five licenses for online operators. H 4559 outlines that online operators must have one year minimum experience in offering daily fantasy sports and run legal sports betting platforms in at least two other states.
Given this, along with the popularity of DFS on the east coast, it would seem likely that FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook initially emerge two of the state’s major online operators. Of course, also notable is that DraftKings operates out of Boston.
Less clear is how the forthcoming Barstool Sportsbook may factor into the plans. Earlier this year, Penn National Gaming struck a 36% acquisition deal worth $450 million. It is widely expected that Penn National will unveil Barstool Sportsbook to capitalize on the sports media company’s immense popularity and brand loyalty. Penn National Gaming owns the Plainridge Park Casino, but it remains to be seen how the one-year DFS stipulation may impact the situation. It’s possible that since Penn National Gaming’s Plainridge Park Casino will be afforded two skins there could be a potential workaround in place.
Massachusetts Legal Online Sports Betting Timeline
Sports betting has been on the radar of Massachusetts lawmakers since PASPA was struck down in May 2018. As other states have swiftly moved to green light legal sports betting, Massachusetts has taken a slower approach.
Significant progress was made in 2019 as several different pieces of legislation were crafted in support of legal online sports betting, including a bill spearheaded by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. In February, a new bill, H 4559, that is viewed as a culmination of previous efforts was given the go-ahead and passed on to the House Ways and Means Committee.
The bill is widely expected to pass, meaning that it should clear prior to the final formal meeting of the Massachusetts General Court on July 31. Of course, one potential complication is the current coronavirus pandemic. With great focus and attention directed at the health, safety, and economic impact of COVID-19, it is possible that new pieces of legislation such as H 4559 could take a backseat.
If the bill is formally passed, it’s possible that legal sports betting could launch in Massachusetts sometime in late 2020 or early 2021.