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Is Massachusetts Missing the Legal Sports Betting Boat?

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Is Massachusetts Missing the Legal Sports Betting Boat?
A general view of the game between the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox in Boston, Massachusetts. Kathryn Riley/Getty Images/AFP

The road toward legal sports betting in the state of Massachusetts has been a long and complicated process that as of this week, shows no signs of resolving itself. The state’s House Ways and Means Committee met last week to discuss the 2022 budget proposals and curiously, the subject of sports betting was nowhere to be seen in that proposal.

While most are seeing sports betting’s omission from the 2022 budget draft as a blow to legalization’s chances this year, there is still time for legislators to renew the conversation and get something done with regard to a lucrative platform. “I think there is potential to get it done (sports betting regulation) in the House yet,” said Ron Mariano, the Massachusetts State House Speaker.

What’s on the Line?

Massachusetts boasts a population of nearly 7 million, which ranks 15th in the nation. It is the rabid nature of the sports fans in the state and the fact that there is a reported robust illegal market already operating in the state has made Massachusetts one of the more exciting potential legal sports betting markets.

“Sports betting in Massachusetts isn’t new – it’s alive and well and has been for quite some time,” Sen. Brendan Crighton, top legal sports betting advocate said. “… I think it’s time for a change and I do believe we’re headed in that direction.”

Pro sports teams in the area include the NFL’s New England Patriots, to the Boston Celtics of the NBA, MLB’s Boston Red Sox and the Boston Bruins of the NHL – all competitive teams within their own leagues with an enormous nation-wide reach.

“There are a lot of powerful forces that want to see it happen in Massachusetts,” Daniel Wallach, founder of the University of New Hampshire School of Law Sports Wagering and Integrity Program said. “The professional sports teams badly want to see it happen, and the casino industry could use the boost.”

Studies have been done and presented to lawmakers stating that the Massachusetts market could result in between $20 million to $35 million in annual revenues being generated. That revenue is increasingly thrust into the spotlight thanks to COVID-related budgetary shortfalls in the state.

Despite Its Omission in the Budget Proposal…

The House Floor is slated to get a chance to vote on the budget sometime this month, meaning that there is still a chance that sports betting could sneak into a final draft.

There is no shortage of support for a potential legal sports betting platform in Massachusetts. A host of state legislators including Governor Charlie Baker are on board with legalized sports betting for Massachusetts as are all of the pro sports teams that call Massachusetts home including Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, Revolution and Red Sox.

There have reportedly been dozens of sports betting Bills out there for legislators to consider – none of which has stuck just yet. But now they are not only seen as a viable industry for Massachusetts but also a way to mitigate some of the impending budgetary issues staring the state in the face.

The Chances

Massachusetts is currently home to one of the most successful state lotteries in the country and has a number of successful casinos running, which proves that the state is able to host a form of legal betting. The state is also home to the headquarters of one of the two DFS giants currently operating at an elite level in other jurisdictions around the country.

Sports betting, thanks to the legion of support could make its way into the final 2022 budget draft at anytime. But it will have to pass votes in the House AND Senate before making its way to the Governor’s desk to sign. It seems that there is enough support in both chambers of the state’s legislature already to pass any reasonable legal sports betting bill but for some reason that hasn’t happened yet.

There will still be some work to be done if and when the lawmakers pass a legal sports betting Bill and widespread approval for legal sports betting becomes a reality. Even if legal sports betting legislation makes it onto a budget draft, regulations, licensing structures, taxes are still going to have to be considered before legal sports betting becomes reality.

In the end, there is a ton of support for a legal sports betting platform for Massachusetts and plenty of time for legislators to include sports betting in its 2022 budget plan. The Massachusetts Legislature is in session until the end of the year, although the 2022 fiscal year starts July 1.

We can expect more debate, more optimism and more pressure among lawmakers for a way to get Massachusetts on par with other legal sports betting jurisdictions that exist in the state’s immediate surroundings. Whether the state can actually pass a Bill with some teeth is still up in the air, but most smart money in Massachusetts is on the proponents’ side.