Massachusetts kicks off sports betting ahead of Super Bowl

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts sports fans who want to wager on their favorite teams are finally getting their chance as the state kicks off sports betting at casinos Tuesday, with online betting likely to follow in a few months.

The kickoff comes just weeks ahead of Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.

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

While the law allows betting on college sports, wagering on in-state colleges and universities won’t be allowed unless those schools are playing in a national tournament, including the NCAA basketball tournaments.

At first, sports betting will be allowed only at kiosks set up at the state’s three casinos — Encore Boston Harbor in Boston, Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, and MGM Springfield in Springfield.

People must be 21 or older to bet.

The arrival of sports betting in Massachusetts is long overdue, according to Claudia Gabriel, who placed a $50 bet on the Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl and a $50 bet on the Boston Bruins to win the Stanley Cup.

“I like the home teams. I always support them. I have not bet on them, but yet I do like supporting them so it just may be something new for me,” said the 61-year-old Lowell resident.

Bill Dorazio, 69, a semi-retired New Hampshire resident, was also among the first to place a sports wager at Encore Boston Harbor.

“I bet on the Super Bowl. I bet Kansas City to win,” he said. “I picked Kansas City because my team is the Patriots in the AFC and I like to stay with the AFC when it comes to championship games.”

Massachusetts is late to the sports betting game. More than 30 other states already allow it.

Gambling addiction workers are also prepping for the change.

“We anticipate there will be a lot of new people coming in,” said Marlene Warner, CEO of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, a nonprofit that operates centers at the state’s three casinos.

The organization employs “game sense advisers” who work with casino patrons to help them understand the odds of winning. They can also help people put their names on a voluntary self-exclusion list to block themselves from the casinos.

Warner said one demographic the group is expecting to see are young men, which she said are also one of the hardest groups to reach with help for problem gambling.

“That is also the primary audience for sports wagering,” she said. “Those folks are already gambling at sports, often at harmful levels.”

During her campaign for governor last year, Gov. Maura Healey said she supported sports betting. It was a shift for the Democrat who, during her first run for attorney general in 2014, called for the repeal of the state’s casino gambling law.

“Looking forward to more revenue,” Healey said Monday.

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill legalizing sports betting. He had argued that residents were traveling to Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut to wager. Baker is now preparing for his next job as president of the NCAA.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 ruled banning sports betting was unconstitutional.

The state’s expansion into sports betting comes more than 50 years after the state created the Massachusetts Lottery in 1971.

Representatives of professional athletes are asking officials in Massachusetts to toughen regulations to guard players and their families from those wagering on games who make threats against them.