Online betting begins in sports-mad Massachusetts

Massachusetts sports fans raced to their phones on Friday to begin placing bets as the state allowed online sports betting just days before the NCAA college basketball tournament begins next week.

The advent of online sports gambling came a little over a month after the state began allowing people to place bets in-person at the state’s three casinos — Encore Boston Harbor in Boston, Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, and MGM Springfield at Springfield.

Lawmakers estimate that sports betting could generate about $60 million in annual tax revenue and $70 to $80 million in initial royalties, which must be renewed every five years. The law provides for a 15% tax on in-person bets and a 20% tax on mobile bets.

People must be at least 21 years old to bet.

Among those who started betting online on Friday was Taylor Foehl, a 31-year-old graduate student in Boston.

Shortly after online betting began at 10:00 a.m., he placed a $5 bet on Purdue to defeat Rutgers in the men’s Big Ten college basketball match. He said he chose Purdue because a friend of his who came to see him at the Cask ‘n Flagon sports bar across the street from Fenway Park was attending school.

Foehl said he hasn’t played in the past but used the FanDuel app “to get some action on the game” they were watching.

“It’s definitely a good time for college basketball to make the playoffs,” he said. “I’m a big sports fan, especially the sports in Boston. I’ll follow pretty much every minute of every game if I can.”

Foehl said information about sports betting wormed its way into almost every part of the game.

“It’s hard to learn about sports and consume sports content without hearing about the gambling side of things,” he said.

Richard Bradshaw, a Worcester pensioner, said he’s also looking forward to placing bets online.

He said the ability to bet directly on college teams might make March Madness office pools “a thing of the past,” but could lead him to teams and sports that he might otherwise ignore.

“Seeing a game, a meaningless game, now having $20 on it has meaning,” Bradshaw said. “Even golf. I watch golf when I bet on it.”

At DraftKings’ Boston headquarters, workers have been preparing for the state’s launch of online sports betting.

The company was already taking bets in more than 20 states where sports betting is legal, but the prospect of serving fans of the Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, New England Patriots and the up-and-coming Boston Bruins is on the horizon, according to the company’s president an added thrill from co-founder Matt Kalish.

The company was also excited that the launch came just before the NCAA basketball tournaments started, he said.

“The most common way people get into the product is usually for a major sporting event. It could be the Super Bowl or something upcoming like March Madness,” he said. “So we’re starting in Massachusetts just in time for a great tournament.”

Gambling addiction helpers have also prepared.

Marlene Warner, CEO of the nonprofit Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, has warned that one demographic the group is expecting is young males. She said they are both the primary target audience for sports betting and some of those most at risk of gambling at harmful levels.

According to Kalish, DraftKings monitors potentially compulsive gambling behavior and gives users of the app the ability to set limits on how much they can bet and how much time they spend on the site.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the ban on sports betting was unconstitutional.

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law legalizing sports betting. Baker, now NCAA president, argued that residents traveled to Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut to gamble.

Pro athletes are calling on Massachusetts officials to tighten regulations to protect gamblers and their families from gambling threats.

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