The launch of legal sports betting in Massachusetts takes place Tuesday.
That’s only half the story.
Part 1 of the rollout is in-person betting, meaning anyone over the age of 21 willing to go toe-to-toe with state-sanctioned oddsmakers can walk into one of the state’s three casinos and hand their money to a teller orkiosk in exchange for a hope and a prayer printed on a betting slip.
Part 2 is scheduled for early March, when bettors won’t even have to get up from the couch; all they have to do is open an app on their phones and wager from a preloaded account.
The online component is expected to overtake the retail version in Massachusetts and comprise the bulk of sports betting at an estimated ratio of 80-20 percent, similar to the breakdown in the 32 states and Washington, D.C., where sports betting is already up and running.
But until then, the casinos hold about a one-month edge that includes the opportunity to accept bets on the biggest sports betting event of the year — the Super Bowl.
“It’s like we’re opening the only casino in town on New Year’s Eve; that’s what our timing looks like, that’s how we’re gearing up,” said Jenny Holaday, president of Encore Boston Harbor in Everett, where the $2.6 billion hotel-casino will house the state’s largest retail casino operation
The Super Bowl game last year between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals drew more than $7.6 billion in wagers from more than 31 million bettors in the United States, both legal and illegal, according to an estimate from the American Gaming Association. The state of New Jersey, for example, reported $143.7 million in legal bets on the game, which was won by the Rams, 23-20.
The casino is bracing for every scenario of consumer demand it can imagine. It will have 120 kiosks spread throughout the casino in seven locations, including in the self-parking garage and has set up a Sports Betting 101 area where new bettors can receive a crash course on parlays, money lines, and prop bets.
“We have spent so much time and energy making sure that we’ve thought through every possible market segment/facility arrival point/customer touch point that if it ends up being just a regular response, we’re so set,” said Holaday. “If it ends up being the hottest thing to do in Boston for the first two weeks, that’s what all of our contingency planning was based on, because when you hear people say, ‘Oh, it’s going to be everybody,’ that keeps me up at night.
“You know, 50,000 people can’t show up on Super Bowl Sunday; they can’t. We can hold 5,000 people inside of the casino and 2,500 cars max. So if it’s just a little bit, it’ll be just fine. If it’s a lot, we’re going to do our best to make sure that the customer experience is still the absolute best it can be. But we won’t know.”
Encore’s 300-plus-seat Wynn SportsBook will be central headquarters for betting, with 10 teller windows (“wickets”) and 27 kiosks in or near the seating area, with its bank of big-screen TV screens. Kiosks also will be placed outside the On Deck restaurant and poker room.
For those uninterested in venturing into the casino, Encore has set up what it calls the Express Sportsbook adjacent to a parking area, where bettors can pop in to place a bet at one of 20 kiosks.
A WynnBet app will allow patrons to pre-load more complex parlays from home, and then, once at the Encore, scan a QR code at the kiosk and get a betting slip.
In Springfield, the BetMGM Sportsbook features 70 lounge seats, a 45-foot high-definition viewing wall, 18 kiosks and, depending on demand, up to seven live tellers.
In Plainville, the Plainridge Park Casino will have 20 kiosks spread out between its entrance and temporary Barstool Sports Book and Revolution Bar, plus a few walk-up areas with live tellers.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission solidified the catalog of betting options. That includes the types of wagers (including parlays, player props, futures, and score totals) and the sports events and contests that can be bet on — a long list that includes big and small professional US sports as well as darts, tennis, bowling, and even includes sports awards and the Oscars. For now, excluded options include the Olympics, esports, chess, and cornhole.
Collegiate sports can be bet on, minus Massachusetts colleges and universities, with the Massachusetts exception lifted for an appearance in a postseason NCAA tournament.
The gaming commission has been poring over operators’ applications and establishing rules and regulations nearly nonstop since then-Governor Charlie Baker signed off on the legislature’s passage of a sports betting bill last summer, four years after a US Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states to decide on sports betting.
The commission has also focused heavily on responsible gaming. Each casino has employees on site to help gamblers who need assistance with problem gambling. Bettors can also voluntarily put themselves on a self-exclusion list that prevents them from placing bets, either online or in person, and online sports bettors will also be able to suspend access to their accounts if they believe they have a gambling problem.
The Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health maintains a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-426-1234 if you or someone you know needs help with a gambling problem.
The amount of tax revenue generated by sports betting once both retail and mobile operations are up and running is estimated at $25 million to $60 million a year.
Time will tell on annual revenue. As for what the initial burst of action will draw, one industry analyst predicted a response similar to that in Maryland, which rolled out retail sports betting in December of 2021 before launching online betting last November. Maryland saw $32.5 million in bets from its five casinos in the first month, according to Geoff Zochodne of Covers.com, a sports betting information company.
“In December 2022, Maryland’s now-nine retail sportsbooks handled about $18.9 million in bets,” said Zochodne. “But its seven mobile sportsbooks took $478.3 million in action the same month,”
Exactly what type of customer will walk through the doors in Everett, Plainville, and Springfield remains to be seen. Research suggests the typical sports bettor is a college-educated 35- to 44-year-old male making a six-figure salary. Holaday, the Encore president, would very much like to appeal to more women, aiming for a heavier ratio in the customer mix here, perhaps 35-65, than they have elsewhere.
“People can get intimidated, women especially, and we’re having it be very user- and jargon-friendly, we’re developing Sports Betting 101 pamphlets that we’re going to have at the sportsbook,” she said. “It’s OK to be new to it, and we want what we’re doing up in the promotions area to be the type of experience where everybody feels welcome to come learn about it.”
How steep the learning curve of sports betting in Massachusetts will be remains an unknown.
What’s certain is that class begins Tuesday.
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.