Massachusetts Lawmakers Discuss Multiple Sports Betting Bills

Massachusetts Lawmakers Discuss Multiple Sports Betting Bills
© USA Today

Supporters of legal sports betting in Massachusetts got a boost Thursday as members of the state legislature met to discuss nearly 20 different bills that would allow and regulate the practice, and determine how revenue from sports betting is spent.

A sizable majority of voters support legal sports betting in the Bay State, according to a new poll commissioned by Encore Boston Harbor and the Plainridge Park Casino Commission.

A total of 61% of the 500 registered voters surveyed by David A. Paleologos Associates this month support legal sports betting in Massachusetts. That number jumps to 72% if the revenue earned by the Commonwealth is used to support welfare or education programs, the Boston Herald reported Thursday.

What Lawmakers Are Discussing

The Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies is meeting to discuss 19 different bills sponsored by more than a dozen lawmakers. Gov. Charlie Baker included $35 million in sports betting revenue in a spending proposal submitted in February. Members of the House nixed that line from their final budget.

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

Massachusetts “sports betting has been extremely successful, but it has been done so in an illegal and unregulated market,” state Sen. Brendan P. Crighton said during the hearing. The Democrat from Lynn said sports betting should be allowed at casinos, online, at racetracks and through brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. He cited a study that claims the state would receive $61.3 million per year, based on a 15% tax rate of operator revenues.

Crighton’s bill (S257) would allow the state to capture as much as $80 million in one-time fees from sports betting operators entering the market.

A bill from State Rep. David Biele, a Democrat from Boston, is similar to the one proposed by Baker and Crighton. His bill (H502) would allow for mobile betting and wagering on college and pro sports, auto racing, electronic sports and competitive video games. Other bills would prohibit wagering on college teams based and/or playing in Massachusetts.

The Thursday hearing is another 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 — namely how any sports betting revenue would be spent — 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, remains the decision of Beacon Hill lobbyists and lawmakers.

Massachusetts Lags Behind Neighboring States

Massachusetts trails three other 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 legalized sports betting or are close to it.

The proximity of Rhode Island and New Hampshire to the large population of Greater Boston 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.

State Sen. Paul R. Feeney, a Democrat from Foxboro, sponsors one of the bills on Thursday’s agenda. He led off Thursday’s hearing by saying one of the state’s chief exports is “sports betting revenue to Rhode Island and New Hampshire.” Other border-town legislators and local officials echoed similar concerns during the hearing.

Support for sports betting crosses party lines in Massachusetts, where both houses of the legislature are dominated by Democrats and the governor, Baker, is a Republican.

Officially called the Massachusetts General Court, the legislature meets in two-year blocks starting each odd year. This session runs through Dec. 31. The timetable for any comprehensive sports betting bill will likely be guided by as much by the upcoming NFL season as any other factor. The Patriots, even without Tom Brady, remain the most popular team in the state and the NFL traditionally generates the most betting handle for legal sportsbooks.

Bay State Sports Teams Support Legal Betting

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

All the pro teams in Massachusetts support legalized sports betting in Massachusetts, along with the PGA Tour.

"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 in a push for legal sports betting last fall.

A total of 21 states have operational sports betting, while seven others have legalized it, all since the 2018 PASPA decision by the Supreme Court.

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