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With much fanfare, sports betting officially launched Tuesday in Massachusetts

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno cuts a ribbon to open the MGM Springfield Sportsbook, as dignitaries including Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein ( to Sarno's right) look on.
Paul Tuthill
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno cuts a ribbon to open the MGM Springfield Sportsbook, as dignitaries including Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein ( to Sarno's right) look on.

First bets placed at MGM Springfield and the state's two other casinos.

With a lot of hoopla, the first legal sports wager in Massachusetts was placed this morning.

With a ribbon-cutting and a countdown to 10 a.m., a new era in Massachusetts for legalized gambling was ushered in when Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno placed the first bet at the MGM Springfield Sportsbook.

“(A) big win for Springfield, a big win for MGM, a big win for the commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Sarno said holding up the receipt confirming his bet.

Headlining the sports-betting launch ceremony in Springfield along with Sarno was Boston Bruins legend Ray Bourque, several members of the local state legislative delegation, and the entire Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Four years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that banning sports betting was unconstitutional, former Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill last August to legalize betting on professional and college sports.

Advocates for sports wagering said Massachusetts needed to act to stop people from traveling to neighboring states to bet and to shut down the illegal bookies. Research done for the gaming commission found that 20 percent of the state’s residents were already betting on sports.

It’s estimated sports betting could bring the state $50 million a year in tax revenue. But, no one has a crystal ball, said gaming commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein.

“Today is a pretty good sign,” she said. “It is an exciting sports market. Our financial advisors think there is great potential but we have to see how it comes out.”

For now, in-person betting at MGM and the state’s two other casinos is the only option in Massachusetts. Mobile betting is likely to launch in early March.

In states where both in-person and mobile wagering are offered, about 80 – 90 percent of the betting is done online. Adam Greenblatt, the CEO of BetMGM, which operates the MGM Springfield Sportsbook, said the gaming commission was smart to give in-person wagering a head start.

“More fans, I think, will experience the retail experience and see how it is different from betting on my phone, or betting on my digital device,” Greenblatt said. “There is a world where both ( retail and mobile) live happily along side each other because they offer the betting public something different.”

MGM spent millions to build the sportsbook at the Springfield casino. It features 70 lounge seats and a 45-foot high definition video screen. The sportsbook created 13 new jobs. Bets can be placed with tellers at four windows or at automated kiosks.

Howard Rosenblatt said he drove from Albany Tuesday to check out the new sportsbook in Springfield and to put some money down on NBA and NHL games.

“It’s more fun to do it in person,” he said. “You get to be in the building where you place the bet and we’re a little bit of casino gamblers, so we get that too.”

For the record, Sarno’s bet was $50 on the Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl. If the Eagles, currently favored to win by 2 points, do beat the Kansas City Chiefs and cover the point spread in the big game, Sarno will win $88. He said he will donate his winnings to the South End Community Center.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.