Getting Answers: mobile sports betting in Massachusetts

After in-person sports betting began on January 31, there was a big push to get mobile betting up and running for this week’s start of the NCAA basketball tourn
Updated: Mar. 16, 2023 at 5:55 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The legalization of mobile sports gambling in Massachusetts coincides with college basketball tournament time and fans are expected to wager more than ever this year, but one economist said while sports gambling will benefit state coffers, it won’t be a financial windfall

“Big, as big or bigger than we expected,” said Matthew Bain with PlayMA.

Bain with PlayMA told Western Mass News it was a successful launch weekend for mobile sports betting in Massachusetts with apps getting more than eight million hits and it’s no surprise which teams were the most wagered on.

“The Boston Bruins were the most bet on team on Draftkings on launch day. Over 74 percent of all NBA futures, NBA finals bets on BetMGM were on the Celtics,” Bain added.

After in-person sports betting began on January 31, there was a big push to get mobile betting up and running for this week’s start of the NCAA basketball tournament.

“It was fun and exciting when they started up the betting at MGM and the other casinos here in Massachusetts, but quite honestly, all the real money is on your phone,” said Victor Matheson, professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross.

Ninety percent of all sports bets are made on mobile devices, Matheson said, who has studied sports gambling in states where it’s been legal for several years.

“Even in Las Vegas, the king of the casinos, two-thirds of all the action in Las Vegas, happens on people’s phones and not in any one of the 50 major casinos along the strip,” Matheson explained.

New Jersey was the first state to legalize sports betting in 2018 and since then, the American Gaming Association has seen exponential growth in the amount of money wagered.

“Five years ago, we were talking about March Madness. There was only one state in the country that Americans could bet legally on the tournament and this year, it’s legal in 36 states and D.C.,” said Casey Clark, senior vice president with the American Gaming Association.

Clark told us Americans are expected to bet more than ever on the tournament games: $15.5 billion dollars. In Massachusetts, Metheson expects about $5 billion worth of bets will be placed each year, a portion of which becomes tax revenue for the state.

“So it’s actually surprisingly small, okay, because even though we have $5 billion being bet, the only thing that’s getting taxed is the net revenues of the sportsbooks,” Matheson noted.

Sportsbooks are expected to make $300 million a year and are taxed at about 20 percent. Matheson expects that will leave the state with $50 to $100 million in annual tax revenue. “This will not be a gigantic boon to the Massachusetts economy,” Matheson added.

Matheson said the state makes only about a cent per dollar wagered on sports betting, whereas 35 cents of every dollar spent on the lottery goes to state coffers.

“So to the extent that sports gambling cannibalizes other more profitable things, it might actually not be a good thing for the state,” Matheson said.

However, MGM Springfield President Chris Kelley said it’s far better than Massachusetts residents crossing state lines to place their bets.

“Think about these tax revenues that have been exiting the state for years, now, we’re going to keep them right here the Commonwealth,” Kelley explained.

The American Gaming Association said regulating sports betting puts an end to the predatory, underground sports betting market and generates tax revenue that can have positive impacts.

“So you’re seeing tens of millions of dollars in some states per year going to support critical infrastructure, to support education to support athletics, youth athletics, or to support responsible gambling and problem gambling resources, do that too,” Clark said.

Matheson said sports betting has a different target audience than the lottery - young, college educated men - and this could open up new populations to gambling addiction. For help, call the Massachusetts Problem Gambling Helpline at (800) 327-5050.