Massachusetts is a small state, relatively speaking. But it is a big one in the sports world, with Boston teams having collected many titles and attracted legions of devoted fans. Despite the storied sports history, Massachusetts has not yet legalized sports betting.
However, much as with the Boston Red Sox finally ending a long World Series drought to win in 2004 (and multiple times since), Massachusetts sports bettors may soon find their wait is over as well.
There are two commercial casinos in operation plus one other slots-only casino. The law also provides for a third commercial casino to be built in the state. Meanwhile, the state’s Native American tribes are actively moving forward to open casinos in Massachusetts, as well. In early 2018, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission released a lengthy white paper intended to provide a “road map” to study the sports betting landscape and the potential for introducing sports betting in the Bay State. Then in May 2018, a ruling by the US Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on states other than Nevada offering sports betting.
That turn of events led to legislation being introduced in November 2018, an “omnibus” bill that would allow many forms of gambling expansion, including licensing and regulating sports betting. Other sports betting bills were introduced in early 2019, and while none progressed beyond their committees, some momentum was being built. Then in 2020 a House committee began to consider a new bill proposed to bring sports betting to the state, including online sports betting.
Here’s a comprehensive look at the current state of sports betting in Massachusetts as well as what we might expect when it does at last arrive.
It is difficult to say. After the state legalized daily fantasy sports in 2016, some speculated Massachusetts would be one of the first states to add sports betting when the US Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling paved the way for states to do so. But nothing has happened along those lines as yet.
There is definitely support among lawmakers for sports betting and the potential revenue it could create. Despite the state’s gaming-related conflict with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Massachusetts differs from some states where tribal interests are great enough to complicate legislative moves toward adding sports betting. The commercial casinos in the state would welcome adding sportsbooks, and it is possible now-dormant horse racing tracks could reopen if they were able to provide sports betting to their patrons.
That said, it will likely be some time before any sports betting legislation gets passed. Given that regulators would then have to work out further details before any sportsbooks could open, it would seem likely 2022 is the earliest we could see legal sports betting in the state.
Massachusetts has a long history of legal gambling. In 1934 the state legalized pari-mutuel wagering on both horse racing and dog racing. Betting on horse racing is still legal today either at the state’s lone harness track or via off-track betting.
Also legal in the state are certain forms of charitable gaming, like beano (aka bingo), raffles, bazaars or “casino nights” and the like. Massachusetts also has a state lottery, established in 1971 with the first tickets sold in 1972. Those playing the lottery in the state must purchase tickets at a licensed retailer, as the law prohibits online sales.
In November 2011, then-Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law the Expanded Gaming Act. The law allowed for the construction of three commercial casinos, one each in different regions in the state. The law allowed one slots-only casino to be built as well, and it created the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to oversee licensing, regulation and all other matters related to the Expanded Gaming Act.
In 2015, the Plainridge Park Casino opened as the state’s lone slots-only casino, although there are virtual table games. MGM Springfield was the first commercial casino to open, beginning operation in August 2018 in the western region of the state. Encore Boston Harbor opened in June 2019 in Everett in the middle region of the state. A third commercial casino may still open in the state’s southeastern region. That has been delayed, however, as the state’s tribes push toward opening casinos of their own (see below).
In 2016, Massachusetts became one of the states that has explicitly legalized daily fantasy sports. DFS providers serve customers in many states that have not prohibited fantasy sports, but MA is among the states with a law on the books actually stating fantasy sports are legal in the state.
As noted above, in 2018 the state’s legislators began looking seriously at possible gambling expansion. Multiple bills were proposed later that year and in 2019, though none progressed out of committee. Then in March 2020, the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies proposed a new sports betting bill, and after the committee voted in favor of it, the bill was passed on to the House Committee on Ways and Means.
The House bill — H 4559 — brings together language from other bills related to sports wagering. If passed it would allow those who are 21 or older to bet on sports in casinos (including slots-only properties) and at any operating race tracks. It would also permit online betting on sports via web-based browsers or mobile apps when in Massachusetts. The law would limit the number of online sports betting licenses to five.
However, the sports betting bill did not advance further by the end of a very busy legislative session. That said, its prospects had been favorable, and sports betting legislation is likely to return.
There are two state and federally recognized Native American tribes in Massachusetts, both based in the southeastern part of the state.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head is based in the small town Aquinnah near Martha’s Vineyard. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is situated nearby in Mashpee on Cape Cod. Both tribes have been working toward introducing gaming of their own, including building casinos. Both have also been involved in legal battles for many years in order to move forward with such plans.
The Expanded Gaming Act allowed a short period during which the state could sign compacts with tribes to allow them to operate casinos in the state. Massachusetts took advantage, signing one such compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in 2013.
In 2015, the US Department of Interior approved the Mashpee tribe’s application for land-in-trust in order to build a casino in Taunton. The following year the tribe broke ground for the First Light Casino and Resort. However, a US District Court ruling overturned the Department of Interior’s approval, saying the department hadn’t the authority to approve the tribe’s application. Today the Taunton casino remains unbuilt as the tribe continues to seek a resolution.
Meanwhile, the state and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head are at odds over that tribe’s gaming plans. In 2013 the tribe announced plans to build a Class II bingo hall in Aquinnah. Five years’ worth of court battles with the state followed, with the tribe emerging victorious in 2018. However, a year later a federal judge overturned that decision, and now the case is being hashed out anew in the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
It remains to be seen exactly what lawmakers ultimately agree upon when it comes to sports betting in Massachusetts. The latest legislation would allow sports betting at a variety of locations.
Both of the current casinos could open retail sportsbooks, as could the state’s one slots-only casino. If any horse racing tracks opened (or reopened), sportsbooks could be opened there, as well. Online sportsbooks are also a possibility, which would mean anyone physically located in the state could also bet on sports.
Ultimately, when and where Massachusetts bettors can wager on sports depends largely on what shape the legislation takes.
Should sports betting legislation pass as currently being considered, that would mean retail sportsbooks at:
It could also mean sportsbooks at other locations as well, including any horse racing tracks that might open in the future.
Massachusetts is a relatively small state, though when it does introduce sports betting it seems highly likely online sports betting will be part of the package. In fact, in early 2019, Gov. Charlie Baker proposed that Massachusetts become an “online-only” state for sports betting, much like the case in Tennessee. However, more recent proposals by lawmakers would incorporate both retail and online sportsbooks.
Adding the online component would be crucial to ensure the sportsbooks generate desired revenue for the state in the form of taxes. Most states with legalized sports betting that provide the online option have seen 80-85% of their sports betting revenue come from online sports betting.
There are a few possibilities for online sportsbooks in MA, some more obvious than others.
When online sportsbooks launch in Massachusetts, there is little doubt that the DraftKings Sportsbook will be front and center to apply for a license. After all, the gambling giant’s headquarters are in Boston.
In 2018, MGM partnered with European industry stalwart GVC Holdings to create Roar Digital. Since then the group has operated online sportsbooks in multiple states under the brand BetMGM, and to good reviews. Given MGM Springfield’s prominence in the state, it seems likely a BetMGM online sportsbook would come to Massachusetts should the opportunity arise.
Encore Boston Harbor is owned by Wynn Resorts. In 2018, Wynn Resorts partnered with European online casino and sportsbook operator BetBull Limited. When that partnership was announced, the news release explained BetBull’s intention to pursue sports betting opportunities in the US, but as of yet, the company has not made much of an impact in America.
Then in 2019, Wynn formed another partnership with the gambling software provider Scientific Games. Upon the Encore’s June 2019 opening, Scientific Games supplied a number of slot machines, table games and other products for the new casino. Since then Wynn Resorts has obtained a license to launch a Scientific Games-powered online sportsbook in Colorado. It is quite conceivable it’ll use that partnership again to open an online sportsbook in Massachusetts.
Again, much depends on what shape sports betting legislation takes. That said, other brands of online sportsbooks that could seek entry into Massachusetts include:
States with legal sports betting typically offer a wide array of wagering options to their customers. American sports are most popular, but there are usually lots of non-American sports among the available games to bet. For instance, basketball fans can bet on the NBA, of course, but also European basketball leagues.
Here are some sports that are popular in the United States that most online sportsbooks feature:
Those sports include many leagues and events happening outside the US, too. But online sportsbooks typically also include lots of non-US events happening in sports such as:
Some states also allow betting on esports or even events like the Academy Awards.
Massachusetts is one of the smallest states in the US by size — 44th out of 50. But Boston is one of the country’s most populous cities, hovering right outside the top 20. There are no fewer than five professional sports franchises located in and around Boston:
The Celtics and Bruins both play home games at the famed Boston Garden, while the Red Sox play at historic Fenway Park. Both the Patriots and Revolution play their home games at Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxborough.
Sports fans who have bet on Boston teams have done well over the years. Only New York City has had more major professional sports championships. The Boston Celtics have won more NBA titles than any other franchise, and the New England Patriots are tied for the most Super Bowls won.
Massachusetts also has a large number of college sports teams with strong followings. Those with teams competing on the NCAA Division I level include:
It is worth noting that some states with legal sports betting impose limits when wagering on collegiate sports. Some prohibit it entirely or don’t allow certain types of betting on college sports such as live betting or props. Some prohibit wagering on games involving college teams from their state.
There is a long tradition of betting on horse and dog racing in Massachusetts, one stretching back to 1934 when pari-mutuel betting on racing first became legal. Betting on greyhounds was made illegal in 2008, but people in Massachusetts can still bet on the horses.
Over the decades the state has featured multiple race tracks that were very popular. One of the most famous was Suffolk Downs, which opened in 1935. However, when Suffolk Downs closed after running its final race in June 2019, just one operating track remained — the harness track Plainridge Park in Plainville.
Those who want to bet on horse racing or greyhound racing can also do so via off-track betting (OTB). There are only three OTB parlors in the state, all located at race tracks (one open, two closed). One OTB parlor is at the slots-only Plainridge Park Casino adjacent to its track. After closing, Suffolk Downs also converted to a full OTB location, and there is a third OTB parlor at the site of the closed greyhound track in Raynham.
There is an online option as well for horse racing fans in MA. OTB operators TVG, BetAmerica, TwinSpires and other sites all accept customers from Massachusetts wishing to bet on horse racing at out-of-state tracks.
When it’s actually legalized, those who wish to bet on sports in Massachusetts will most certainly need to be at least 21 years of age. That is the minimum age for betting on real money games in casinos.
The minimum for betting on horse racing or the lottery, or participating in other legal forms of charitable gaming, is 18. But all of the sports betting legislation entertained thus far has set 21 as the lowest age for sports betting.
Typically online sportsbooks provide many methods for funding an account. These often include:
Pay attention to deposit bonuses whenever depositing to an online sportsbook account. Sometimes you must enter a bonus code to receive these bonuses.
Typically online sportsbooks provide multiple options to withdraw funds, although not as many as are available when depositing.
Depositing methods like credit and debit cards usually do not work for withdrawing. However PayPal and other payment processors usually do. Depending on the financial institution, withdrawing via bank transfers or e-checks sometimes works as well. For online sportsbooks partnered with casinos, withdrawing via the cashier at the casino cage is always an option, too.
When the Expanded Gaming Act became law in 2011, one of its provisions was to create the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to license and regulate the state’s new commercial casinos and slots parlor, and to be involved in oversight for any potential tribal casinos. The MGC’s Division of Racing also oversees the horse racing industry in the state. The Massachusetts Lottery oversees other forms of gambling like the lottery and various forms of charitable gaming.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will likely be charged to regulate sports betting, both retail and online, once it is legalized.