Mobile sports betting goes live in Massachusetts on Friday at 10 a.m.
Massachusetts now joins a majority of U.S. states in allowing people to wager on sports games from their phones. And Boston-based DraftKings, one of the largest companies in the mobile gambling market, is preparing for big business.
“Being able to launch our biggest product in Massachusetts means a tremendous amount,” DraftKings co-founder Matt Kalish said in an interview.
Kalish said he feels like his company, which operates out of a stadium-like suite of offices in the Back Bay, has a “home field advantage.”
“I know we all believe very much that we need to do very well in Massachusetts,” he said. Kalish, along with his friends Jason Robins and Paul Liberman, started DraftKings out of a spare bedroom in Watertown.
DraftKings began with daily fantasy sports — real athletes playing on made-up teams that users drafted. But the company took off after the Supreme Court struck down a law prohibiting sports betting in 2018.
Mobile gambling companies jumped on the opportunity to allow users to bet on games from their phones
“Since then, it’s been one state after another,” Kalish said.
DraftKings, and other operators like FanDuel and BetMGM, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for legalized sports betting in Massachusetts. The legislature passed a bill in the summer, making Massachusetts the 36th state to allow commercial sports betting.
DraftKings and its rivals are running big promos to get new users online. Ads on billboards, TV and across social media offer hundreds of dollars in credit, called “bonus bets.”
“They’re expecting to get that [money] back in the long run,” said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. “If I can get you hooked with my app now, the $200 I’m going to get to spend on you today is going to be tiny compared to the amount you’re going to be spending on me from now and forever.”
Sports gambling at the state’s casinos went live in January, but Matheson predicts that after Friday, around 90% of sports bets will be placed online.
Matheson said the sheer number of ads blanketing the state reveal how much money is at stake. Looking at data from New Jersey and Arizona, he estimates players will place approximately $5 billion worth of sports bets in Massachusetts per year.
That means up to $60 million in new taxes, according to projections from the state.
Sports betting comes with risks. Public health experts warn that immigrant communities, young people and people in recovery are more vulnerable to problem gambling.
Matheson said his Holy Cross students often ask for his thoughts about sports gambling.
“To the extent it’s an entertainment product, it’s great,” Matheson said. “But I tell them, if you’re trying to do this as a way to actually make money, this is likely to be a pretty expensive habit for you.”
Editor’s note: People struggling with compulsive gambling can call 1-800-327-5050 or visit https://gamblinghelplinema.org to speak with a trained specialist to receive support. Services are available 24/7 in multiple languages and are free and confidential.