Optimism for the legal sports betting industry in the state of Massachusetts took a disappointing turn when lawmakers this past week failed to include a legalization provision in their 2021 budget. The legal sports betting industry definitely had a chance to get off the ground before the end of this year, but it looks as though the subject will have to wait until the next legislative session opens in 2021 before being considered again.
There had been broad bipartisan support for legal sports betting in Massachusetts. Although a battle for control of the industry had been brewing between two existing brick-and-mortar legal betting companies (Penn National and Wynn) and regulators, lawmakers in the state seemed open to getting something done quickly. The Massachusetts House passed an economic development bill this year and included legal sports betting, while the Senate, who rejected that bill, still signaled a desire to see some form of legislation passed as well. Unfortunately, other subjects took precedence, and time eventually ran out.
It Ultimately Came Down to the Senate
The Senate of Massachusetts can take sole responsibility for the subject of sports betting being put off until 2021 at the earliest. The Senate rejected to add sports betting to its fiscal 2021 budget proposal for the second time, this time leaving no time to amend or negotiate before the end of the current legislative session.
Sen. Bruce Tarr, the Senate minority leader, brought an amended proposal to the Senate floor last week that included retail and online betting, which was rejected without so much as a roll call vote. Among the others supporting the amendments were Minority Whip Patrick O’Connor, Assistant Minority Leader Ryan Fattman, and Democratic Senators Diana DiZoglio and Nick Collins.
Perhaps fittingly, or perhaps not, some Massachusetts Senators pointed to other priorities such as COVID-19 before legal sports betting is to be addressed. Senate President Karen Spilka is one that is on record saying, “Right now, the focus is going to be on conference committees, resolving the budget, and COVID. We’ll see though.”
What the State Is Missing Out On
The state of Massachusetts boasts one of the more rabid sports fanbases in the US. Along with the NFL’s New England Patriots, who on the weekend officially came out in favor of a legal sports betting platform, Massachusetts is home to the Boston Celtics of the NBA, MLB’s Boston Red Sox, and the Boston Bruins of the NHL.
It all adds up to the potential for Massachusetts to have one of the most lucrative per capita sports betting markets in the country. Reports on the potential Massachusetts sports betting market identifies between $20 million to $35 million in annual revenues, which would significantly bolster drained state and local tax coffers in the state.
In the meantime, sports betting enthusiasts from Massachusetts will be forced to neighboring New Hampshire and Rhode Island to spend their gambling dollars.
Not Dead Yet
Legislators in Massachusetts certainly haven’t closed the door on legal sports betting in the state. They have simply punted on the subject for now. Gov. Charlie Baker and other lawmakers have signaled their interest in bringing on a legal sports betting platform as a way to mitigate mounting losses for their cash-strapped state.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly realize that they are missing the boat on a potential revenue generator that its citizens are already participating in, with or without a legal platform in their state. With surrounding states having their own legal platform already or being in the process of launching their own platforms, pressure continues to mount on lawmakers in Massachusetts.
Two of the current brick-and-mortar facilities in the state may have said it best in a joint statement when they said: “Sports wagering expansion by our neighboring states substantially affects the competitive posture of the gaming industry here in the Commonwealth and places us at a strong disadvantage, with Massachusetts jobs, revenues, and economic activity at stake.”
Expect the behind-the-scenes conversation to continue in Massachusetts and for legal sports betting to be on top of the agenda during 2021 legislative sessions. Massachusetts is waking up to the benefits of legal sports betting for their state. It is just taking a little while.