It was only 10 in the morning, but the casino floor at Encore Boston Harbor was already humming with excitement.
In-person sports betting was set to go live in Massachusetts at three sites: Encore, Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville and MGM Springfield. A little over two dozen winners in Everett had been selected to be some of the first people in the commonwealth to legally place sports bets.
Mark Lawhorne, from Malden, bet $100 — money provided by the casino — that the Bruins will win the Stanley Cup at one of the brightly lit touch-screen kiosks set up for bettors.
“Well, obviously, we’ve all been waiting for a while and it’s about time that we’re one of the 36 states that are a part of that,” he said.
It’s a big moment in the long saga of sports betting, an industry that is expected to bring in $70 to $80 million in revenue to the state annually. And now that it’s finally live, all eyes are on the state’s newest cash cow to see just how smoothly the ship will sail.
Encore rolled out a list of heavy hitters for its premier event. Boston sports legends like Ty Law, Cedric Maxwell and Johnny Damon were all on hand, along with some of the state political leadership that made sports betting possible.
Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano said he believes this will be the beginning of a very successful sports betting operation.
“To think that because we don’t have sports betting that people aren’t betting is an unrealistic assumption. So, people are betting. All of our constituents bet. I have known a few Reps, on occasion, to bet,” he said to some chuckles from reporters. “But I do think that to bring it out into the open allows us to tax it and takes some of the stigma away from sports betting, too.”
But, just like any form of gambling, sports betting comes with risks.
Marlene Warner, the CEO of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, points out that research shows that people who already chose to bet on sports illegally have a higher propensity towards gambling problems than others.
“So that alone just concerns us,” Warner said. “That when you make it legal, is that gonna continue to be true? I think the research will tell us as we move forward.”
Warner also points out that sports betting typically pulls in a younger demographic, even if Massachusetts law only allows gambling for adults 21 and older.
“But for folks that are 21 to say 25, 26 years old, they’re still at a pretty high-risk category. Their brains haven’t fully matured,” she said. “Mix that with sports betting being the type of gambling people do most with alcohol and that definitely raises a number of red flags for us.”
For those that choose to gamble, Warner’s first piece of advice is to make sure you have the money to spend before you place a bet — and that it’s money you’re willing to lose. She also cautions against reinvesting any winnings back into gambling.
“Specific to sports wagering, I guess the other thing I’d say is just make sure you know what you’re betting on,” she said. “Make sure you know how the odds are structured, make sure you understand. There’s a lot of intricacies in sports wagering, make sure you really understand what you’re gambling on.”
The odd part about all of this: not too long ago, none of it would have been possible.
In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which outlawed sports betting in much of the country, and opened the door for individual states to introduce the practice. Massachusetts legalized sports betting last year.
Dave Forman is the vice president of research at the American Gaming Association, a lobbying group representing the gambling industry. He said the speed that legalized sports betting has spread in the last few years has been astounding.
“I think five years ago, if you’d said that there’d be more than 35 states that have legalized sports betting, people wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “And really we’ve gone from sports betting just being available in Nevada to now, in 2022, Americans will have bet nearly $100 billion on sports legally.”
That now includes people in Massachusetts like Claudia Gabriel, from Lowell. She placed $50 on the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup and $50 on the Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl.
“This is like a lifetime experience,” she said. “And it’s something that will go in the history books and will always be a part of Encore in Massachusetts. The first bet in sports betting here.”