Sen. Brendan Crighton first tried to legalize Massachusetts sports betting in 2018 after he was first elected to the state Senate. He’s still trying four years later, with the chance of passage seemingly better than ever.
“Not a week goes by that we’re not meeting to discuss the subject,” the Lynn Democrat told Baystate Business on Feb. 9. “I think it’s at a time now that we’re pretty comfortable with the material. We’ve had time to look at other states, what’s worked, what hasn’t.”
Now, with COVID-19 relief and other lingering legislative priorities largely addressed, Crighton seems to think legal sports betting is higher up on Beacon Hill’s agenda. It is even possible the Commonwealth could legalize sportsbooks by the time the current legislative session ends on July 31, 2022.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of opposition as much as it is of prioritization,” Crighton told the radio show.
Massachusetts Slow To Act On Sportsbooks So Far
Action on sports betting has long been slow at best on Beacon Hill.
Twenty or more current sports betting bills languished in Boston for most of 2021, with no real sign of movement yet in 2022. It was New York State’s wildly successful mobile sportsbook launch in early January that seems to have drawn recent attention to what’s happening – or not happening – with sports betting bills in Massachusetts.
“I certainly understand the frustration of consumers, that they want this in Massachusetts,” Crighton told Baystate Business. So do several other lawmakers, he said. But COVID disruptions and other legislative priorities – like prescription drug reform – relegated sports betting to the Senate’s to-do list.
“When the House first passed a bill to legalize sports betting (in 2020) we were in the middle of the pandemic,” the Senator said.
The pandemic is still here. But as Omicron trends down, as is hoped, states like Massachusetts are looking toward the future.
What Will Legal Sports Betting Look Like In Massachusetts?
What legal Massachusetts sports betting may look like when it’s finally a reality is anyone’s guess.
There are still 20 or so sports betting bills pending in the Massachusetts legislature. Only one has made it through to the other chamber. That bill is Rep. Daniel Cahill’s H.3993, a bill that passed the state House last July and has been waiting for a Senate budget hearing ever since. Cahill’s is the second sports betting measure cleared by the House since 2020.
Cahill and Lesser’s bills are similar, save for one big sticking point: betting on college sports. Cahill’s bill would allow it, while Lesser’s bill – at least in its current form – would not.
Crighton told Baystate Business he favors allowing betting on college sports, with the exception of in-state schools. All in all, he said, most sports betting bills before the legislature now aren’t far apart on the issue.
“I believe that it needs to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s nothing I think we’re too far apart on.”
Crighton Is Optimistic About Sports Betting Legalization
Tax and licensing is another issue. Crighton said he would like to see a tax rate of about 12.5 percent, with enough regulation to make betting safe but competitive for the consumer.
But competitiveness in the sports betting market is becoming trickier by the day for Massachusetts, especially since the launch of mobile sports betting in New York State. At least 1.5 million sports betting accounts have been added in the Empire State since mobile sports betting launched there on Jan. 8, 2022.
Most other New England states have legal sportsbooks, too.
Still, Crighton seems optimistic. “I’m shooting to get this going as quickly as we can,” he said.