Sports wagering in Massachusetts moved out from the shadows and into the glitter of casinos Tuesday, when the first legal sports bets were placed in the state’s three casinos at 10 a.m.
Mobile betting is expected to command the bulk of sports wagering after it launches as soon as March 1, but for now, Encore Boston Harbor in Everett, Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, and MGM Springfield have the betting population to themselves, with anyone over the age of 21 able to walk into a casino and place cash on the advice of their hearts and heads.
After a countdown led by Encore Boston Harbor president Jenny Holaday, Revere’s Matilda Bonfardeci was one of 32 bettors to place the first wagers at the casino’s kiosks; she placed $100 on the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl.
“It’s [Patrick] Mahomes all the way,” said Bonfardeci.
She bet the money-line wager option.
“I have no idea,” she said. “I think it means you’re a safe bet, I’m not sure, but it was very easy and simple to do.”
With the Chiefs the underdog at plus-100, Bonfardeci can win $100 if the Chiefs win.
And if they don’t, the house wins.
That knowledge spurred Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell to offer advice after he placed his first sports wager — $100 on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl — in a sports celebrity-studded event at Encore’s Wynn SportsBook a half-hour after the public got the head start.
“Make sure you’ve got the money to spend, that’s what I would say,” said Maxwell. “For me, a hundred dollars is not going to kill me, but I think everybody has to be in control with what they do.”
Former Red Sox center fielder and 2004 “Idiot” Johnny Damon, who donned his No. 18 jersey before placing his money on the Eagles to win, played to the crowd by offering a note of sympathy to the fortunes of the state’s casinos.
“The New England fans, the Boston fans, the Massachusetts fans, whatever, they are prepared, they know what to do, and I worry about the casinos because Boston fans are very educated on everything,” said Damon. “Hopefully a lot of people can make some money, if people bet the right way.”
Former Patriot Ty Law plunked down $1,000 on the Celtics to win the NBA title, while also betting $240 (the Hall of Famer wore No. 24) on the Chiefs.
The sportsbook floor was packed with media, casino employees, and patrons eager to catch a glimpse of the celebrities.
Emcee Sean McDonough took note of the crowd.
“As I look out here, I wonder if anybody works here in Massachusetts,” he said.
In Springfield, former Bruin Ray Bourque was among the notables to kick off sports betting in the morning. Bourque bet $100 on the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup, with winnings earmarked for his foundation.
Plainridge waited until a 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony to begin accepting sports wagers in order to allow the five Massachusetts Gaming Commissioners present at the Springfield ceremony to make their way east to Plainville.
After the casino awarded a $10,000 check to the Old Colony Habitat for Humanity organization, MGC commissioner Bradford Hill lauded the effort to make sports betting a reality.
“This is a great day for the Commonwealth, where we have a lot of sports betting enthusiasts, myself included,” said Hill. “The partnership between the licensees and our MGC staff all came together to make this happen.”
Commissioner Nakisha Skinner noted that work remains to be done.
“We made it, and we made it with an aggressive timeline, I’m going to maintain that, but we did not cut corners,” said Skinner. “We’ll continue to fine-tune the process in the coming weeks and months.”
After the Plainridge event, the commissioners headed to Encore to end their statewide tour.
In the evening, the Everett resort threw a VIP event, with former Patriot Julian Edelman placing $11,000 on the Celtics to win it all. He was joined by former Celtic Eddie House, Everett’s mayor, Carlo DeMaria, and Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano. In the morning, Mariano placed $50 each on the Celtics and Bruins to win championships.
The US Supreme Court paved the way for legal sports betting with a May 2018 ruling that was followed almost immediately by Delaware and New Jersey allowing bets. Since then, the rollout has been slow but somewhat steady.
Massachusetts is the 33rd state to launch.
In the interim, neighboring states New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York have legalized sports betting. Motivated in part by the knowledge that Massachusetts residents were driving over state lines to place mobile bets or visit a casino, the state legislature took a few years after former Governor Charlie Baker indicated his support to hammer out a bill, which was passed last August.
At Encore’s Express SportsBook in the parking garage, Daniel Delaney of Brighton was one of the first to use the 15-minute parking spot to enter a room filled with kiosks to put $100 into a three-game Tuesday night NBA parlay with the Lakers, Bucks, and Nuggets all to win for what would be a $341 payout.
“The first day of sports betting, I figured I’d come here to see what it looks like,” said Delaney. “I’ve never been here, just never been a big gambler. But sports, that’s something I know about. This way I could just pop in and pop out.”
Each Massachusetts casino has different minimum bets.
At Encore, it’s $10 for both the kiosks and in-person bets. MGM Springfield has a $5 minimum for its kiosks, $10 at the window, while $5 will suffice for a kiosk or a window bet at Plainridge.
As of mid-afternoon, the three casinos all had slightly different odds, meaning a determined bettor with time and faith that there would no shift in the odds could attempt to gain an edge.
Both Encore and MGM had the Bruins at +450 to win the Stanley Cup (if you bet $100, you’d win $450) while Plainridge was offering +500. Plainridge and MGM both had the Celtics at +400 to win the NBA championship, while Encore had them lower at +360. Encore also was a little more bullish on the Red Sox to win the World Series this year, offering them at +6000, with Plainridge and MGM at +8000.
For the Super Bowl, the over/under was at 49.5 at all three casinos. MGM and Plainridge each had a 1.5-point spread (Eagles favored), with Encore at only 1 point. For the money line, the Chiefs were the underdogs: Encore +100, Plainridge +102, and MGM +105.
Mark Lawhorne of Malden was one of the early kiosk bettors, placing $100 on the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup.
“They have a great opportunity for it, and I get to bet on my home team,” said Lawhorne. “To have it here in Massachusetts is a great opportunity not to lose the revenue for people going over. It’s nice to do it here at home.”
He did not place odds on it, but Lawhorne hoped to be back before the Super Bowl.
“I’m going to wait and see where the line goes on that,” he said. “Seems to be sliding towards Philly, so I’ll probably pick KC if that stays true.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.