A One-Year Retrospective on Massachusetts Sports Betting

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It’s been nearly one year since Massachusetts launched legal online sports betting. Despite a few hiccups, it’s been a success for the commonwealth. In less than 12 months, through January, nearly $5 billion has been wagered in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has become a success story for regulated, legal sports betting. More than $100 million has been collected in tax revenue from sports betting from the launch on March 10, 2023, through January 2024. Nationwide, MA has become a benchmark for how to launch a sports betting market prudently.

Regulators for Massachusetts sports betting have established themselves as some of the most thorough and protective in the country. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission passed regulations limiting the use of language that lent itself to the idea of “free” promo offers. It also demanded that “21+” be added to advertisements for sports betting to safeguard underage citizens.

Industry leaders DraftKings and FanDuel have flourished in the commonwealth, while new sportsbooks, ESPN BET, and Fanatics have joined the MA field.

The MGC appointed Caitlin Monahan as Investigations Bureau Director and elevated Todd Grossman to interim executive director. As the commonwealth approaches the one-year anniversary of legal sports betting, it faces the task of finding a replacement for MGC chair Cathy Judd-Stein, who announced her retirement last month.

North Carolina sports betting launches on March 11. They plucked Sterl Carpenter from the MGC to lead its sports betting division, a sign of other states’ respect for how MA has handled the emerging industry.

Total Handle Soars Past $4 Billion, Revenue $471.2 Million

In January, Massachusetts recorded its fourth consecutive month with at least $600 million in total handle (wagers accepted on sports betting). The Commonwealth taxes online sports betting revenue at 20%, and retail sportsbooks at 15%.

Since it launched last March, Massachusetts has recorded $4.91 billion in bets through Jan. 31, 2023. That activity has resulted in nearly half a billion in taxable revenue for sports betting operators, and they have paid $110 million in taxes.

Taxes from sports betting in MA are allotted to fund problem gambling programs and research, county and state general fund projects, and education.

MA experienced a surge of activity immediately: in its first full month, online sports betting reported more than half a billion in total handle in April 2023. In November of 2023, a record was set at $636 million in total handle, spurred by NFL betting. In December, it broke that record with $658 million. It marked the third month that the Commonwealth set a record for bets accepted, both online and in retail sportsbooks.

Sportsbooks Tempered Ad Spend in MA

Mirroring a nationwide trend, sportsbooks lowered their advertising and promotional spending in Massachusetts a few months after the market debuted. Notably, Caesars and BetMGM pointed to the high cost of customer acquisition as untenable based on the competitive first few months in MA, from March to May of 2023.

Barstool Never Gained Footing in MA, Dumped by PENN

Even before the first legal sports wager was placed in MA, regulators were wary of Barstool. The Boston-based sports news company applied for and received a sports betting license, but only after persistent grilling from the MGC over the controversial history of founder Dave Portnoy.

PENN Entertainment, the parent company of Barstool, eventually dumped that brand in favor of ESPN BET. At least part of that decision was the mixed reaction Barstool was getting nationwide because of its edgy content and tactics. Once in Massachusetts and elsewhere across the country, Barstool was fined for targeting underage college students with its marketing.

MA Set Tone on In-State College Betting, Care With Underage Gambling

In its first year, Massachusetts carefully navigated the issues that face a regulated sports betting market. Most importantly, MA made decisions such as:

  • Restricting betting on in-state college athletics to tournaments only.
  • Banning sportsbook advertising on college campuses and any platforms that target primarily under 21 age groups.
  • Requiring the label “21+” for almost all advertising and placement of sportsbook logos.
  • Banning the use of the terms “free bets” and “risk-free” in any way associated with betting.
  • Pressuring Daily Fantasy Sports operators to cease offering “pick ’em” style contests that closely resemble parlay or prop bets.
  • Banning betting on non-sports events such as the Academy Awards and Grammy Awards. Also, not allowing betting on events such as the length of the national anthem performance at the Super Bowl, etc.
  • Prohibiting betting on controversial sports like slap fighting.
  • Not allowing credit cards from other states to be used to fund sports betting in MA.

MA is a Market to Watch for Trends in Sports Betting

The popularity of Boston sports, which has some of the most beloved sports teams in the U.S., has proved to be a catalyst for a healthy, vibrant market. Fans seek to spice up their affinity for the Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, and other Boston teams, which helps fuel the mighty engine of MA sports betting. Massachusetts regulators will likely continue to be on the industry’s leading edge, making the commonwealth worth watching in year two and beyond.

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About the Author
Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Writer and Contributor
Dan Holmes is a writer and contributor for Gaming Today with plenty of experience under his belt. Dan has written three books about sports and previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. Currently, Dan is residing in Michigan with his family.

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