Two months before the start of the 2019 legislative session, Massachusetts sports betting is already setting itself up as a topic of interest.
According to the Herald, DraftKings is running strategically placed ads touting the benefits of legal, regulated online Massachusetts sports betting.
“DraftKings is looking forward to lending our expertise and insight as a sports betting operator when the legislature takes up sports betting in 2019,” DraftKings said in a statement obtained by the Herald. “Legal, regulated mobile sports betting provides the best mechanism to not only protect consumers, but to eliminate illegal offshore gambling, ensure game integrity, generate new revenue for the Commonwealth and fuel the growth of Massachusetts’ sports-tech sector.”
Before you book a flight to Boston, bear in mind DraftKings isn’t the only piece on Massachusetts’ gambling chess board.
Legal sports betting coming to Massachusetts is far from a certainty, and there will be a lot of moving parts.
Even if the Bay State does take the sports betting plunge, it might end up doing so sans online sports betting.
How much clout does DraftKings have?
Credit where credit is due: DraftKings (along with FanDuel) was instrumental in getting daily fantasy sports legislation passed across the country. Nowhere was this more evident than in Massachusetts.
The presence of the DraftKings home office in Boston triggered concerns the company might relocate to a DFS-friendly state if Massachusetts prohibited it, or dragged its feet on legislation.
At the same time, DFS had a pretty clear path to legalization.
In Massachusetts and beyond, there are only scant pockets of opposition to DFS legislation. Along the same lines, other than FanDuel and DraftKings, there weren’t many contrarian stakeholder voices in the room trying to shape said legislation differently.
As much as DraftKings’ lobbying helped Massachusetts become a first-mover on DFS, sports betting is going to prove a much tougher lift.
A lot of obstacles to Massachusetts sports betting
Expect Massachusetts lawmakers to tread warily when it comes to sports betting.
They be pulled in different directions by different stakeholders. You also can expect tiptoeing around the landmines that will manifest as the topic is debated at the statehouse.
Sports betting is not like a spelling bee
Sports betting will not be sugarcoated with the “game of skill” euphemism that kept DFS under the anti-gambling crowd’s radar.
As such, sports betting will elicit a more visceral reaction from lawmakers and constituents who might fear another expansion of gambling.
There will be a lot more interested parties
In addition to DraftKings, the state’s land-based casinos and lottery will try to shape Massachusetts sports betting legislation. And on that front, DraftKings is severely outgunned.
DraftKings’ Boston headquarters has several hundred employees. That’s similar to Penn National’s Plainridge Park Casino that has around 500 full-time employees. However, MGM Springfield employs several thousand people, as will the Encore Boston Harbor when it opens in June 2019.
The casinos will swell state coffers with tens of millions of dollars annually. DraftKings sends only a tiny fraction of that amount to the state.
Don’t be surprised to see land-based casinos lobby for exclusive rights to land-based and online sports betting. They could try to muscle DraftKings out of the picture, or at least put DraftKings at a competitive disadvantage.
Massachusetts not known for its haste
Massachusetts looks like a good sports betting candidate, but the state rarely acts quickly on anything.
When Massachusetts passed its authorized casinos in 2011, the state was already fashionably late to the casino gambling party. On top of that, it took another seven years before the first resort casino — MGM Springfield — opened its doors. The state also awarded a single slot license to Plainridge Park; that facility opened in June 2015.
The delays were caused by a purposefully slow bidding and licensing process, lawsuits, and a failed repeal effort. That’s the Massachusetts’s way.
Even the DFS law the state passed in early 2016 was temporary. It contained a few provisions designed to slow the process down and give lawmakers an out on legalizing DFS.
The DFS bill included a provision that would sunset the temporary DFS law after two years unless a permanent law was passed. It also mandated the creation of a DFS-online gambling commission to study the matter.
On top of that, consider:
- The leadership shakeup on the Massachusetts Gaming Commission
- The ongoing investigation into Steve Wynn and the Encore Boston Harbor project
- The First Light Casino fiasco
- The lottery’s ongoing efforts to launch online products (and perhaps get involved in sports betting)
- The possibility of online poker and casino getting thrown into the mix and bogging down legislation.
Bottom line: Don’t hold your breath
Under ideal circumstances, Massachusetts likes to take things slow, and sports betting is far from ideal circumstances.
As was the case with DFS and online gambling, expect calls to slow the process down and for commissions for further study.
As Brendan Moss, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Baker’s Administration told the Herald:
“The administration believes this is an issue worth analyzing and expects various stakeholders, including the Legislature and professional sports industry, to discuss it next session.”