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Massachusetts Continues to Drag Feet on Legal Sports Betting

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A view of the Charles River Esplanade and the Boston skyline. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP

Legal sports betting has become a popular pastime in the New England region of the US. All but two of the states that make up one of the more sports-crazed territories in the US have launched and are currently experiencing the fruits of a legal sports betting platform including Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire and newcomer Connecticut.

Curiously absent from that list is Massachusetts, a state that has tried a few times to legalize but has failed. The problem in the state lies with the state’s Senate – period. The House has drafted and passed legislation, the Governor has been an outspoken proponent of a platform for his state, the state’s sports teams are welcoming, and the general public has shown a willingness to adopt a platform.

What’s at Stake

Massachusetts has long been considered one of the most exciting potential destinations for a legal sports betting platform in the US. Home of 7 million residents, which ranks 15th in the country, and beloved teams in all four major North American pro sports leagues, Massachusetts is ripe for an expansive sports betting platform.

It’s not like sports betting isn’t happening in Massachusetts, on the black market, or in neighboring states. “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 back in July, when optimism trumped pessimism. “… I think it’s time for a change and I do believe we’re headed in that direction.”

If the Senate can get their act together, the Massachusetts market could be huge, could create jobs and significantly assist state and local tax coffers. Jerald Parisella, the House chair on the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies mentioned conservative estimates of $60 million in annual tax revenue for the Massachusetts scene right off the bat, with plenty more upon maturity of the platform.

Those numbers are pretty hard to ignore unless…

The Senate Has No Appetite

The Massachusetts Senate has been given opportunities to debate and pass a comprehensive legal sports betting bill on two separate occasions – ones that the House worked hard on to outline all of the fine details of a potential platform. A simple “rubber stamp” on two occasions was all that was necessary.

Senate President Karen Spilka recently said she is “not certain that there’s a need for even more money” for the state and local coffers. And when pressed on the potential to have a debate in the Senate on a sports betting plan, when said: “We have to do redistricting, we have to close out the books and do a [supplemental] budget, we need to do a more permanent VOTES act, our temporary (provisions) end in December. Some of it will depend upon bandwidth and how it stands.”

Sports betting, according to Spikla is down the list of priorities for the Senate this session.

Reason for Optimism

There is no shortage of entities fighting for a legal sports betting platform for Massachusetts. The state’s Governor, House of Representatives which passed its latest sports betting Bill in July by a 156-3 vote, sports betting operators and the general public are all in the corner of those pushing to legalize.

Governor Charlie Baker has made it no secret that he will sign any sports betting legislation that comes across his desk. After all, he’s already included the revenues for sports betting in his fiscal budget. During Week 1 of the NFL season, he went as far a tweeting: “We filed a bill in 2019 and again this year to legalize sports betting in MA – it’s time to act and get this done. MA is losing out to many of our neighbors on this one.”

Back in July, Rep. Michael Soter said: “It is time for us to send a message to our friends in the Senate that today we vote unanimously, as a House. And I’m asking you, as a colleague on the border of the state of Rhode Island, that we unanimously send a message to our colleagues in the Senate saying that the people, the people we work for, want this legislation.

“Turn on the radio, turn on the news. Everybody wants this legislation. We don’t have to go to a ballot or find out where people in the commonwealth are, we know where they are. Listen to them, you represent them.”

So…

Attempts to legalize sports betting will continue for one for the most liberal states in the US. It continues to shock that those in Massachusetts still must rely on the back market and cross-state sportsbooks to bet on their favorite teams.

The plans are there, in back-and-white. But as long as the Senate maintains their unwillingness to simply act on the hard work of the Governor and House, the platform goes nowhere. We can hope that lawmakers do the right thing for their state and a market opens up in Massachusetts soon.