Here comes the biggest day of the year for pro football — and sports betting. But there’s still no sports bar in Massachusetts, outside of a casino, that can accept bets on this Sunday’s Super Bowl showdown.
That’s not what the Legislature intended in 2022 when it legalized sports betting for online operators and at the state’s three casinos, and carved out a special license category for horse tracks and simulcasting parlors.
Those brick-and-mortar licenses for track owners? No dice yet. Two companies are eligible to apply: the owners of the former Suffolk Downs horse track — Sterling Suffolk Racecourse — and the former Raynham Park dog track — Massasoit Greyhound Association. Live racing is long gone today, although the owners keep the lights on for simulcasting with the hopes for a sportsbook payout. But neither one has obtained a license in the year or so since sports betting first became legal.
Legislative leaders created this special license with an eye toward spurring economic development. The thinking: Maybe the promise of sports betting profits could spur the opening of a new track, to bring back thoroughbred racing in Massachusetts. (Standardbred horses still run at Plainridge, with carts in tow.) Lawmakers also realize these track owners essentially have hosted a form of sports betting for decades.
Several factors have got in the way of new brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. The law requires a capital investment of $7.5 million within three years of obtaining a license. Local opposition in various towns across the state scuttled several horse track proposals.
And the competition is fierce. While sports betting operators generated more than $470 million in taxable revenue in Massachusetts in their first year — nearly all of it from online wagers — some digital players have struggled to make inroads. Boston-based DraftKings has cornered half of the market. Rival FanDuel controls about one third of it, with six others fighting for what’s left. Two of them, Betr and WynnBET, have already decided to leave the state, though Wynn’s Encore casino will still accept sports bets in person.
Of the two existing contenders, Sterling Suffolk holds a stronger hand. Should it get a license, SSR could open up anywhere in Boston, not just at the site of the old track on the East Boston-Revere line. The area around the TD Garden remains the most likely target. SSR had been rumored to be talking with DraftKings about a location there but those rumors haven’t come to fruition yet. (Reps for SSR, DraftKings, and the Garden all declined to comment.)
At Raynham Park, father George Carney and son Chris thought they had a sure thing when they landed Caesars as a partner a year ago; they even had started construction on a sports betting parlor. Then gaming regulators raised concerns about state environmental enforcement actions in the past against a separate business of Chris Carney’s. Caesars got spooked, and pulled out. Raynham Park drafted a plan to remove Chris from the business, but the review is in limbo without another partner.
Six months later, state Senator Marc Pacheco, whose district includes Raynham, remains incredulous about the turn of events. He’s disappointed the Massachusetts Gaming Commission hasn’t found a way to adhere to the intent of the law and ensure Raynham can offer sports bets. After decades in the simulcasting business, the Carneys, Pacheco said, shouldn’t be held to the higher standard of a full-blown casino. (A spokesman said the commission “prides itself in its reputation as a fair and rigorous regulator.”)
Will George Carney find a new sportsbook partner in time for next year’s Super Bowl? Will DraftKings open a shop at the TD Garden? Will thoroughbred racing ever return to Massachusetts? Place your bets now.