Massachusetts Governor Urges Sports Betting Passage

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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker wanted sports betting to be on everyone’s mind at the start of the New England Patriots’ opener yesterday. 

The governor took to Twitter minutes before kickoff to push state lawmakers to act on Massachusetts sports betting legislation that has languished on Beacon Hill this year.

“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.” Baker tweeted

At least 20 bills to legalize sports betting are now pending in the state legislature including H.70, sponsored by Baker. That bill has largely been eclipsed by H.3993 which advanced to the state Senate by a vote of 156-3 on July 22. 

The Massachusetts Senate will likely choose between the House bill and a rival proposal sponsored by Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, which has yet to pass the upper chamber. 

Connecticut And New York Add Pressure For MA To Legalize

Sports betting is both legal and operational in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Delaware, with mobile sports betting available in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Now, New York and Connecticut are about to enter the regional market, too. 

Connecticut is expected to launch online sports betting in Oct. 2021 through the state lottery and apps operated by two tribal nations. Retail sports betting will also be offered at the tribes’ casinos and at up to 15 lottery retail locations. 

New York — which legalized mobile sports betting through its state budget process last April —  plans to launch in time for the 2022 Super Bowl, pending the award of mobile operator licenses by the New York State Gaming Commission in Dec. 2021 or Jan. 2022. The tentative deadline for licensee selection is Dec. 6. 

Massachusetts has tossed around online sports betting proposals at the state legislative level since 2018 without much success. Sportsbooks including Boston-based DraftKings, professional sports teams, and several state officials are hopeful that 2021 will be different.

Rep. Daniel Cahill, D-Lynn, a lead cosponsor of the House proposal to legalize sports betting now pending in the Senate, told his colleagues during the July House vote that legalization will bring fun, and revenues, to Massachusetts. 

“People are allowed to have fun. And sports betting is fun. But for some time now people in our districts haven’t been able to do that.” Cahill said. “Now we can capture revenues that have been going out of state.” 

Licensing fees under the House proposal would bring around $80 million to the state treasury annually, at least initially, lawmakers say. Add in revenue from taxes, and the state revenue edges closer to $140 million annually.

The Next Step

Massachusetts would likely need to have a regulatory bill through to Gov. Charlie Baker this fall if it hopes to launch sports betting by the 2022 Super Bowl.  Otherwise, there is no hard-and-fast deadline for action this year. 

Bills now pending are technically in play for two years, with each full session split into a first and second annual session,  according to Massachusetts Senate Clerk staff. Formal action in the first annual session ends on Nov. 17, 2021, although staff told Gaming Today this afternoon that the House and Senate can act on current bills into next year. 

The last day of the current annual session is Jan. 4, 2022, with the second annual session beginning on Jan. 5. 

Given the fact that Baker is pushing for legalization, it’s almost certain that he will support whatever bill comes down the pike — whether it be this year, or next. 

About the Author

Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, she has been known to watch UK basketball from time to time.

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