Massachusetts sports teams didn’t get everything they wanted out of the final MA sports betting legislation. But the MLB’s Boston Red Sox are happy that sports betting is finally coming to the Commonwealth.
Boston Red Sox pleased with sports betting progress
Dave Friedman, executive vice president of legal and government affairs for the Red Sox, said team representatives remained unsure of the bill’s fate until late in the formal legislative session’s final day.
Lawmakers stayed up all night Sunday into Monday to work out their differences over Massachusetts sports betting in a conference committee. Now, the bill just needs an expected signature from Gov. Charlie Baker.
“We’re very pleased that the bill passed. We think it’s a great bill. It’s been four long years talking about this and working with legislators, so it’s a good day to get this done. We would have liked the chance to have an in-person sportsbook at or near our venues. But most sports wagering happens on mobile devices, and we’re happy there will be a robust industry here.”
Lawmakers reject team request for licenses
Last month, Friedman shared with PlayMA a letter sent by Massachusetts pro sports teams. The message requested that the conference committee allow them direct participation in Massachusetts sports betting.
The teams asked for lawmakers to permit a total of 10 Category 2 licenses, allowing such operators an in-person sportsbook and one mobile skin. They also asked for the bill to instruct the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to give preference to sports team applications. In such a scenario, sports teams or venues would apply for licenses in conjunction with a designated operator.
The proposed model was similar to Ohio, where the Cleveland Guardians and Cincinnati Reds will have on-site sportsbooks and partner with online operators.
But Massachusetts lawmakers ended up limiting Category 2 licenses to two horse racing simulcast facilities only. In addition to these two Category 2 licenses, three Massachusetts casinos have the opportunity to apply for Category 1 licenses. Seven untethered mobile licenses will also be available.
Friedman admitted his bewilderment over two horse racing simulcast facilities receiving in-person sportsbooks and a mobile skin while sports teams were left out:
“We made our case for teams to have retail and mobile sportsbooks ourselves. The legislature was trying to do a lot of things to accommodate a lot of shareholder concerns. At the end of the day, we think they did their best.”
Sports teams will still have opportunities
The Red Sox had hoped to open a physical sportsbook within a restaurant adjacent to Fenway Park.
Now that it’s no longer a possibility, MA sports teams will find alternate ways to benefit from legal sports betting.
“All sports teams have the opportunity to talk to operators and form some sort of partnerships or sponsorships around sports betting. Part of our reason to support sports betting is fan engagement. But there are opportunities for revenue out there, and I’m sure we’ll explore those once the bill is signed.”
Although they can’t operate a full-fledge sportsbook, the Red Sox could still work with a partner to put a sports betting lounge adjacent to the stadium. A lounge would offer places for people to watch games and place bets. The only difference is that people would bet on their phones rather than at a betting window.
The bill also contains a study on the potential of allowing sports betting kiosks at MA restaurants at bars. If permitted, kiosks could then be added to the lounges.
Advertising prohibition not included in bill
Another reason the Red Sox are pleased with the final MA sports betting product is that it doesn’t include prohibitive language on advertising.
Senate language had originally prohibited broadcasters from airing sports wagering advertisements during games. The letter from sports teams, however, asked conference committee members to reject this ban. And they did.
Friedman expressed concerns that such an advertising ban could negatively affect broadcasting deals for the team, saying:
“We were concerned about the limits on advertising. Major League Baseball and other leagues already regulate ads. But we were concerned some of the provisions on ads went too far, and they were kept out of the bill.”
Who will the Red Sox partner with for MA sports betting?
The Red Sox currently have partnerships with Boston-based DraftKings for daily fantasy sports and MGM Resorts for casino. Each have prominent signage in Fenway Park.
According to Friedman, it’s still unclear how those relationships will translate to sports betting:
“I can’t speculate which relationship and deals end up happening. The ink is barely dry. We think DraftKings is a great company, a great sponsor of ours now in the daily fantasy space.”
Bill addresses integrity concerns of teams & leagues
Friedman said that when it came to how the Massachusetts sports betting legislation addresses their concerns with the integrity of their games, teams were especially pleased.
He highlighted regulation provisions such as requiring official league data, adding language allowing operators to share anonymous data with league investigators and allowing leagues to request the removal of individual prop bets with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
“From the very beginning of this discussion about sports betting, leagues and teams have focused first and foremost on integrity and I think this bill is a model for making sure sports betting protects the integrity of our games.”
Although it’s still too early to tell, current progress suggests regulators could quite possibly knock Massachusetts sports betting out of the park.