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February Recap: Pending Massachusetts Sports Wagering Bills & $430M Super Bowl Handle

In Massachusetts, two sports betting bills are frontrunners in 2021, and local major sports teams are pushing for betting regulations that will not only benefit the state but also create jobs while facing out illegal sports betting. Meanwhile, Super Bowl handle reached $430M with mobile sports wagering playing an important role in the YoY growth.

Massachusetts Sports Betting Bills and The Question of collegiate sports

Over the last three years, Massachusetts’ sports fans have become accustomed to winning, as the Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox, and Patriots have all had their fair share of success. However, one long sought-after win that has escaped the Boston faithful is the ability to wager on sports through legal, regulated channels

Massachusetts is the corporate home of DraftKings, a company whose growth has astounded industry watchers as its market cap has climbed to exceed $26 billion. The state is also where “El Presidente” Dave Portnoy founded Barstool Sports some 18 years ago, long before the company’s partial acquisition by Penn National Gaming.  But ironically, neither company’s sportsbook is currently an option for those in Springfield, Quincy, or anywhere else within the Bay State.

Currently, Massachusetts has over a dozen active sports betting bills, headlined by proposals from Governor Charlie Baker and Senator Eric Lesser. Gov. Baker’s HD 70 and Sen. Lesser’s SD 2365 are touted as two of the bills with the highest probability of success.

The Governor’s bill looks to implement a tiered tax rate of 10% for retail wagering and 12.5% for online wagering. Senator Lesser’s bill establishes a tiered approach as well to both tax and licensing. His proposal taxes casinos at a rate of 20% and online-only licensees at an elevated 25%.

Lesser’s bill also includes three different types of entity licensing:

  • A Category 1 license will allow existing casinos, like the MGM Springfield the option to offer in-person betting as well as mobile sports betting that can be facilitated by up to three skins, a mobile betting operator that provides the front end platform on behalf of the casino, i.e. a DraftKings or Barstool Sportsbook.
  • Live horse racing tracks or simulator centers would be eligible for a Category 2 license, giving them the ability to take in-person bets as well as mobile wagering through just one skin.
  • Lastly, a Category 3 license can be issued by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to give any mobile sports betting operator or DFS platform the ability to get in on the action. 

Other bills that seek to drive immediate and significant funds to the state, such as the $10 million cost of acquiring a license in Sen. Brendan Creighton’s SD 177 and the $5 million initial plus $1 million renewal fee in Sen. Paul Freeney’s SD 2412, will also be tough for the cash-strapped state to ignore. 

As Massachusetts works toward legalization, the state’s major sports teams have banded together to make their collective voice heard. In a letter to the Economic Development Conference Committee, the legislative committee tasked with overseeing matters pertaining to sports wagering, they highlighted three key benefits to the state if the committee acted to legalize sports wagering: extinguishing the illegal betting market, creating jobs in the Bay State, and generating tax revenue capable of filling voids in the state’s budget. The teams clearly believe that the activation of sports betting will lead to a more prosperous consumer base and further opportunity for them to engage their fans.

Of all the questions involved in the ongoing journey to bring sports betting to Massachusetts, perhaps the most highly debated and anticipated is how to deal with wagering on college sports. Many proposed bills look to eliminate wagering on college athletics altogether, while some only restrict betting on institutions within the state.

Legislators appear to be feeling the pressure from academic institutions, whose effort to restrict NCAA wagering reveals their underlying misunderstanding of the consequences of this position. In essence, these efforts will only harm the state’s and the schools’ shared goal of limiting black market betting on NCAA games. 

Super Bowl LV Sees Increased Handle Despite Fewer Viewers

As Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made history, becoming the first team to ever play in the big game on their home turf when they dethroned the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, most Super Bowl traditions across the country were scaled back, as has become the new norm for the past 12 months. 

One Super Bowl pastime that saw an explosion this year, however, was fans betting on the game. Nationwide, the handle eclipsed $430 million, an increase of 64% over last year. Despite the fact that Americans were less interested in watching the game — CBS’s production drew just 96.4 million viewers from television and streaming platforms, making it the lowest Super Bowl viewership since 2007 — there’s no doubt that they are increasingly poised to stake their money on its outcome.

Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images

A deeper look shows the increasingly important role that mobile wagering plays in allowing for such growth. In states such as Pennsylvania & New Jersey, where mobile sports betting has become far and away the preferred method of wagering with over 94 percent of handle wagered through mobile channels last year, bettors took to their phones during the big game.

Pennsylvania’s $53 million handle and New Jersey’s $117 million handle on Super Bowl LV accounted for 74% and 117% increases, respectively, from the amounts wagered in these states on last year’s matchup between the Chiefs and 49ers. Nevada, meanwhile, saw its Super Bowl handle fall by over 11% versus prior year, driven by a decrease in tourism and a persistent refusal to forgo its in-person registration requirements.

As COVID-19 continues to force Americans to sit on their couches, its little wonder that mobile wagering has soared. In March, states like New York will once again sit by and watch neighboring states take in outsized action on the NCAA Tournament through the sports betting apps that are available just across the border. One wonders how long it will be until the powers that be in Albany finally see the light.

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