Massachusetts Sports Betting Bills Heard Thursday

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Massachusetts lawmakers missed a chance to make sports betting part of the fiscal year 2022 state budget, but a state hearing Thursday could give legal sportsbooks another shot at passage in 2021.

Nearly 20 proposals for legalization or appropriation of funds from Massachusetts sports betting are on the agenda for Thursday’s virtual hearing of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. One of those bills belongs to Sen. Eric Lesser, a co-chair of the committee and long-time proponent of sports betting legalization in the commonwealth. 

Lesser’s bill would create three separate licenses for in-person and mobile sportsbooks at casinos, horse racetracks, and a mobile-only license, all approved and regulated by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. 

The lawmaker told reporters in March that sports betting would help rebuild a hospitality industry hard-hit by COVID restrictions and lingering unemployment. 

“This would help bring people out and get people into bars and restaurants when it’s safe, and have some fun at the same time — and the state would be able to collect some revenue,” Lesser told Spectrum News 1. 

Sports betting proposals filed by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Sen. Paul Feeney — both who attempted to get sports betting into the FY 2022 Senate budget — are also on the committee’s agenda. 

Sports Betting Proposals On The House Side

Most sports betting bills filed on Beacon Hill this year originated in the Massachusetts State House. Those bills will also be aired on Thursday, including six bills filed by Rep. Brad Hill of Ipswich that would regulate and/or direct appropriations from online sports betting. 

Hill is also proposing that DFS operators be required to pay registration fees to the state — something they are not currently required to do. A nonrefundable initial application fee equal to the lesser of $100,000 or 1.5 percent of gross revenue generated the prior years for DFS sites is proposed by Hill. If there is no baseline, the initial fee would be $50,000.  

Also on tap at Thursday’s hearing is Rep. Orlando Ramos’ bill to legalize sports betting and allow smaller, local businesses like bars and taverns to enter the market, with an opt-out for local governments.

A nearly-identical bill is sponsored by Sen. Adam Gomez at the other end of the state house.

Supporters of the Gomez-Ramos proposal include Fair Play Massachusetts whose spokesperson, Ryan McCollum, testified recently in favor of a small business sports betting component before the joint committee. 

“We will see more money, we will support local business owners and their local employees, we will be fair to residents throughout the Commonwealth and we will frankly have a safer Commonwealth as we strike a more significant blow to the black market if we allow some of these small businesses the option to offer legal and safe sports wagers to their customers,” McCollum said. 

What’s Next for Massachusetts Sports Betting? 

Massachusetts has less than five months to get a regulatory bill through to Gov. Charlie Baker if it wants to have legal sportsbooks in time for the 2022 Super Bowl. 

While the current legislative session doesn’t end until Jan. 4, 2022, the last day for formal action is Nov. 17, 2021. 

The chances that Massachusetts sports betting will be legalized this year are still pretty good, even with rejection of the budget amendments last month. Lawmakers who may not be keen on tying sports betting to the budget may still want legalization in some form. 

Tarr, who fell short in his effort to amend the Senate budget with sports betting last month, has couched sportsbooks as a bipartisan economic development issue. 

“Why is it that we have not yet taken the steps to capture that economic opportunity in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?” said Tarr, who is a Republican. Hill is also a Republican. Lesser is a Democrat, as are Gomez and Ramos. 

Tarr has said legal sports betting could bring $30 million to $50 million in new annual state revenue to the commonwealth. 

Massachusetts currently lags behind most of New England and the nation by not having legal sports betting. At least 21 states now have operational sports betting, and six more have legalized it with a launch pending. 

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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