Many of the initial wagers in the newly created Massachusetts sports betting industry were on the upcoming Super Bowl, as well as the Bruins and Celtics’ championship chances.
EVERETT — An unusually large casino crowd for a Tuesday morning gathered on the floor at Encore Harbor Boston as the WynnBet Sportsbook opened amid the official Massachusetts legalization of in-person sports betting.
Thirty local bettors who won a random draw contest were the first group to place sports wagers at the a newly installed bank of kiosks. After the Mass. Gaming Commission revealed in October that it wanted the in-person betting to come online in time for the Super Bowl, many of the first bets were tied to the NFL’s signature annual event.
“I bet on the Super Bowl,” said Woburn resident Steve Lesslie. “I bet on Philadelphia to win it giving up a 2.5 spread but that’s OK. I think they’re going to cover it.”
Lesslie was one of the randomly drawn group who placed the casino’s first sports bets.
“I do bet. I’m not a crazy gambler but I do partake in it leisurely,” he explained. “I think by having this type of platform, it’s awesome.”
Several notable former Boston athletes were on hand for the festivities, including Johnny Damon, Cedric Maxwell, Shawn Thornton, Matt Light, Angela Ruggiero, and Ty Law.
After a few of their bets were announced — mostly smaller scale wagers on the Super Bowl and local teams — Law made a statement.
“You’re all being cheap,” he joked. “I’m going to go $1,000 on the Celtics to win it all.”
Law also added that he was betting on the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
For now, the in-person options at the state’s casinos remains the only way to wager on sports. That will change in March, when mobile betting is implemented in time for the NCAA college basketball tournaments.
As Encore celebrates the opening of its sportsbook, is there any concern about bettors disappearing once they don’t have to physically come to a casino to place a bet?
“I think if you look at most markets, mobile gets about 80 percent of the revenue,” said Encore president Jenny Holaday. “That makes perfect sense just because of the convenience.
“However, the thing I do say, especially for this retail operation, is Boston is an incredibly enthusiastic and passionate sports town and there’s kind of nothing as fun an exciting if you’re a sports fan as coming in and watching the Boston teams with all of your friends,” she added. “So I think that the community feel of the in-person experience will always have appeal and value in this market.”
Lesslie supported Holaday’s view, noting that he could see value in both in-person and mobile experiences.
“I think for the people that aren’t able to come down that don’t want to drive, mobile will be great for them,” he said. “I think the in-person piece, I think this is definitely going to benefit me because I’m 20 minutes down the street and I’d spend a day here.”
“I’ll probably do a little bit of both,” said another of the first bettors, Kelly Gillis of Wilmington. “I don’t really bet too much on sports but maybe I’ll do a few games here and there, like on the Bruins or Celtics.”
The rollout of betting represents one of the final stages in what was a protracted legalization process.
For decades, sports betting — specifically placing a wager on the outcome of an individual game — was illegal in the United States with the exception of Nevada. Then in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in a 6-3 ruling, clearing the way for legalization at the state level.
Massachusetts was later than several of its neighboring states to allow sports betting. The eventual bill to enable sports betting in the state was the process of a last-second deal at the end of the 2022 legislative session.
Among those also in attendance at Encore on Tuesday was Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano, who helped broker the agreement.
“I thought we would be here,” Mariano said of legalization. “I knew it would take a little longer than we would’ve liked, but I knew that this was a worthwhile endeavor, and that we could convince a majority of the folks to support it.”
“It’s been an ongoing process,” Mariano continued, noting that the crafting of the bill’s language took several years. “There were a lot of questions that had to be answered. And, of course, Massachusetts has its own way of doing things.”
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