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MGM Springfield celebrates launch of legalized sports betting in Massachusetts

After a countdown to 10 a.m., the appointed time bets could begin to be accepted in Massachusetts, with a $50 bill in hand standing across from a betting clerk, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno wagered on the Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl.

He received his ticket from the clerk, and told media gathered alongside: “Big win for Springfield, big win for MGM, big win for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

And, with that, legalized sports betting began at the MGM Springfield casino, and across the state Tuesday. It was the first day the three casinos could accept bets on sporting events in person.

At the Springfield casino, a gaggle of elected officials, dignitaries and casino employees gathered to mark the occasion, which also drew media attention from around New England.

Those speaking at a ceremony held in MGM’s sportsbook touted the benefits the new attraction could have for the casino, and the city.

"We are celebrating the multiplier effect that this social experience can create for restaurants, for retail, for gaming and for our city's economic engine," said MGM Springfield president Chris Kelley.

Before placing his bet, Sarno had a similar message.

"And maybe you make a score, and you make some money, and then you decide whether here at the casino or in our other establishments in downtown Springfield, you go out and have a good time," Sarno said. "But it's another amenity of this unique attraction right here in the City of Springfield, and it goes hand-in-hand."

Massachusetts is behind neighboring states such as Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Hampshire in allowing betting on sports. It took years for the legislature to agree to it. And, it nearly didn’t happen last year, but lawmakers reached a deal in the middle of the night on Aug. 1, on the last day of formal sessions, and former Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill into law.

From that point, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which is tasked with regulating the new industry, moved aggressively to get it up and running. In the space of less than six months, it came up with regulations, evaluated and approved licenses for the casinos to take bets, and went through the testing of software and systems being used by the state’s three in-person sportsbooks.

Cathy Judd-Stein, chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said despite the fast timeline, nothing was compromised in the process.

"We've done so well prioritizing its integrity, consumer protection and responsible play, and we also have prioritized throughout our assessment diversity, equity and inclusion and community engagement," Judd-Stein said.

There were also casino patrons who came by to check out the sportsbook at MGM Springfield, which has a 45-foot video wall, dozens of leather seats and a nearby bar for those wanting to watch the games they gambled on.

Howard Rosenblatt of Albany, N.Y., came with his sister. He said he doesn’t like betting on his phone, like he could do in New York, and that “it’s more fun in person” to wager on sports.

"Well, 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," he said.

For now in Massachusetts, besides MGM Springfield, in-person wagers are being accepted at the Plainridge Park Casino in the southeastern part of the state, and Encore Boston Harbor.

Wagering on mobile devices and online is expected to begin in early March, just ahead of the N.C.A.A. Men’s Basketball Tournament. Gaming commission chair, Judd-Stein, said that timeframe remains in place as the work continues to get the nearly a dozen wagering providers up-and-running.

When that does happen, most of the action on sporting events is expected to be done on phones or computers. But, officials at MGM Springfield hope by having a head start with in-person wagering, and having a high-profile event like the Super Bowl taking place before, that some patrons will agree with Rosenblatt and decide that it is “more fun in person.”

As for Sarno, he said he will donate his winnings to charity should the Eagles win the Super Bowl.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.