What you need to know about the prospect of sports betting in Massachusetts

Rhode Island will soon offer sports betting. Massachusetts will take a little while longer.

DraftKings and sports betting.
A view inside the DraftKings office in 2015. –Stephan Savoia / AP

As NFL season kicks off, fans across the country will be considering a new prospect: legalized sports betting.

While this has been the case in Nevada, other states are now free to enable gambling on sports after a Supreme Court decision in May struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. With the federal law cleared, the path to state-by-state legalization is open.

Still, it’s not a settled question for would-be NFL gamblers, especially in Massachusetts. Here’s a look at the status of sports betting on a few issues.

Sports betting isn’t legal in Massachusetts (yet)

While a majority of Americans agreed that sports betting should be legal in a 2017 poll (55 percent), many states are still years away from providing the proper legislation.

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In Massachusetts’ case, sports bettors will likely have to be patient. Simulcast wagering on horse and dog races is allowed, but gambling on football (and other sports) currently isn’t.

In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling, Governor Charlie Baker expressed his view that there needs to be “framework” before sports betting could be legalized. Still, he was open to the idea, noting that it was “certainly something we should look at.”

Figures in the gaming industry, such as Encore Boston Harbor Casino president Robert DeSalvio, have previously voiced support.

“While our industry supports legalized and regulated sports betting, the ultimate decision now rests with Massachusetts legislators and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission,” DeSalvio said in May. Encore Boston Harbor, located in Everett, is scheduled to open in 2019.

More recently, local legislators – who will determine the manner and pace of any legalization of sports betting – have spoken in favor of gambling. Yet any comments have been immediately accompanied by a longer term schedule.

“We will get about the work of this quickly so that when we do convene for the 2019-2020 session we can be ready to go,” said Massachusetts representative Joseph Wagner in June. “That would be the hope and the potential game plan.”

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Wagner is the chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. And though he insisted over the summer that “work has already begun,” it was again couched in caution.

“The approach here is to move this to the front burner but to not move so quickly that we get it wrong,” Wagner said.

Where is it legal?

Sports betting may not be legal in Massachusetts, but a number of U.S. states have acted swiftly in light of the Supreme Court decision.

Joining Nevada (where sports betting has been legal for decades), Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, and West Virginia have all legalized sports betting as well.

In June,  Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed a $9.6 billion budget deal that included the legalization of sports betting.

There are certain restrictions, however. Sports wagering can only occur in physical casinos. As of now, there are two locations: both Twin Rivers casinos, located in Lincoln and Tiverton.

The official launch of sports betting hasn’t occurred yet, and was recently delayed.

New York voters passed a referendum in 2013 which called for gambling expansion. This included provisions on sport betting, though efforts in the form of specific legislation have failed to gain passage.

However, the 2013 bill “already allows sports betting” at four upstate New York casinos, according to a July assessment from CBS New York. And in August, it was reported that New York’s Gaming Commission was trying to deliver regulations that would enable the four casinos to begin offering sports betting. That said, no timetable was provided.

Daily fantasy is legal

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One part of the sports betting conversation has been taking place for years on the subject of daily fantasy.

In 2015, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey looked into the legality of daily fantasy sports, which were then under scrutiny as a form of gambling. A year later, Healey issued regulations for daily fantasy.

DraftKings and FanDuel, two of the larger daily fantasy sites, eventually paid a combined $2.6 million to settle a probe Healey launched into allegations of “unfair and deceptive practices.”

In July, the 2018 Massachusetts state budget included a provision making daily fantasy sports permanently legal after a 2016 sunset clause was set to expire.

Companies like DraftKings, which is based in Boston, are an intersection between daily fantasy and sports betting. The former daily fantasy startup is already offering sports betting in New Jersey, and is looking to expand. While a majority of the company’s business is still in daily fantasy, it could see an eventual swing to mostly sports betting.

“It’s probably some time in the next 2-3 years, would be my guess,” DraftKings CEO Jason Robins recently told Yahoo. “It all depends how quickly the states roll out. That’s really the variable… After you see 10-12 of them doing it, at that point you’ll start to see the lines cross.”

In August, ESPN reporters David Purdum and Darren Rovell noted that Patriots owner Robert Kraft (along with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones) have retained their investments in DraftKings. Both have stakes reported to be less than 5 percent of the company.

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