Massachusetts Considers Bills to Legalize Sports Betting

Massachusetts on map

30-second summary

  • Massachusetts made commercial casinos legal in 2011
  • The MGM Springfield, the first Massachusetts casino, opened in August 2018
  • There are now five proposals for sports betting bills before the legislature
  • There would be a 10% tax rate on physical sportsbooks and a 12% tax on online sportsbooks

Gambling in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has a long, winding history when it comes to gambling. A couple of racetracks are still operating in the state. Simulcast and pari-mutuel betting is legal at these tracks.

The state lottery has been in operation since 1971, and it offers various types of draw games and scratch games. Two federally recognized tribes have been trying to open gambling facilities on their lands but have encountered a variety of obstacles.

Since 2011, commercial casinos have been legal as a result of the Expanded Gaming Act.  This act created three licenses for casino resorts and also enabled establishment a slots parlor. This parlor opened in June 2015 at the Plainridge Park Casino.

Two of the resort casino licenses have been handed out. There are ongoing issues with the Encore Boston Harbor Casino due to legal issues involving the awarding of its license. The MGM Springfield has been open since August and is seeing some decent results. The third and final license is still up for grabs.

Road to sports betting legalization

Obviously, many forms of gambling are legal in Massachusetts. The next logical step would be to legalize sports betting.

Governor Charlie Baker announced in January that he supports legalization. A bill was proposed along with this announcement that gave indications as to what residents might expect.

With legalization, $35m (£26.5m) in tax revenue is projected for 2020. This would come from license fees and a tax on betting revenue. The application fee will be $100,000 (£75,756). Licensees will have to pay $500,000 (£378,780) every five years to renew the license.

Sports betting at physical locations will be subject to a 10% tax that will increase to 12% for bets made online. Slots parlors and casinos currently operating will be allowed to apply for sports betting licenses.

They will also be able to partner with vendors from outside of the space to operate their sportsbooks. Online gambling is also part of this bill, which will allow for mobile sports betting. Betting on amateur or college sporting events would not be allowed. The only other state that limits betting on college games is New Jersey, which not allow any bets on games involving teams from the state or amateur contests taking place in the state.

Sports betting locations

The three potential locations for sports betting are at the MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, and Plainridge Park. Five sports betting bills have been proposed.

Senator James Welch sponsored SB 882, which would legalize online and offline sports betting, similar to what Senator Brendan Crighton is proposing with SB 903. Senator Bruce Tarr is introducing a bill that would allow the state gaming commission 180 days to conduct a review looking into the potential effects of sports betting in Massachusetts. Finally, SB 1110 from Senator Michael Rush would also legalize offline and online sports betting.

Turbulence in Massachusetts

Sports betting legalization would be a welcome boost for gambling in the state. Several problems have arisen recently. The Encore Boston Harbor is not making progress due to an ongoing investigation into its approval for a casino resort license.

The third casino resort license is tied up by a different investigation. Finally, recent figures show a dramatic rise in crime in the area surrounding the MGM Springfield.

In the three months before they opened, there were 22 crimes in the area. In the five months after opening, this rose sharply to 115 incidents. This is the same number of incidents reported at the Plainridge Park Casino for all of 2018.