Massachusetts Committee to Hear Sports Betting Bills Next Week

Massachusetts Committee to Hear Sports Betting Bills Next Week
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The long and tortuous road to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts reopens next Thursday when joint committee representing the state Senate and House meets in virtual session.

The Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies has 19 different pieces of gambling and gambling-related legislation on its agenda proposed by more than a dozen lawmakers. In February, Gov. Charlie Baker included $35 million of revenue from legal sports betting in a spending proposal. However, the journey to legal sports betting in Massachusetts hit a mammoth pothole after lawmakers in the House nixed that line from their final budget.

The first bill on the agenda of the day-long scheduled meeting (H70) is sponsored by Baker himself. It calls for the overall legalization of sports betting and offers general terms for its practice.

Sports Betting Enjoys Bipartisan Support

Similar bills are on the docket from both house members and state senators in Massachusetts. The overall concept of legal sports betting enjoys bipartisan support. Baker is a Republican, but the legislature is ruled by Democrats. The divide is 37-3 in the Senate and 129-30 in the House. Opposition to sports betting lies more along the lines of debating how the state would spend revenue generated by sports betting and whether sports betting would inadvertently harm lower-income residents and problem gamblers.

Representative David Biele, a Democrat from Boston, has authored a similar bill to Baker’s that would authorize sports wagering in the Commonwealth under what would be called the “Massachusetts Sports Wagering Act.” It would allow for mobile betting and wagering on college and pro sports, auto racing, electronic sports and competitive video games. The state would collect 15% percent of each operator’s revenues.

This hearing is a first step in creating a single comprehensive piece of legislation that could clear the Senate and the House, while addressing enough of the concerns among opponents to secure enough votes for passage. Whether this is the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end in this three-year process, is up to Beacon Hill lobbyists and legislators.

Bay State Teams Back Legalized Wagering

Massachusetts is home to DraftKings, which has a longstanding partnership with the New England Patriots. The Red Sox have a sponsorship deal with MGM, which also has an $800 million casino in Springfield.

All the professional teams in Greater Boston and the PGA Tour support legalized sports betting in Massachusetts.

"To use a sports analogy, Massachusetts is collectively keeping our bat on our shoulder in the competition for additional jobs in the innovation economy," the Patriots, Revolution, Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox, DraftKings, MGM Springfield, FanDuel, and the PGA Tour wrote in a joint letter to lawmakers last fall to push for legal sports betting.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is a Belmont, Massachusetts native and once worked for Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Red Sox. The Tour stops in Norton, Massachusetts, every other year during the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

Massachusetts Lags Behind Neighboring States

Massachusetts is a laggard among New England states when it comes to approving sports betting. Four of the five states that border Massachusetts — New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York — have either legalized sports betting or have it in the works.

The geographic proximity of Greater Boston to both Rhode Island and New Hampshire has been a boost to betting in those states. Both are siphoning revenue from gamblers who cross over the Bay State lines to place their bets. And the presence of legal sports betting so close to Massachusetts has been a major point for those who want to see it in the Commonwealth.

The Massachusetts legislature — officially called the Massachusetts General Court — meets in two-year increments starting each odd year. This current session runs through Dec. 31. Any timetable for a sports betting bill will likely be guided by as much by the upcoming NFL season as any legislative calendar. The Patriots remain the most popular team in the state and the NFL traditionally generates the most betting handle for legal sportsbooks.

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