Massachusetts Sports Betting Nixed From Senate Budget

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Massachusetts has nixed two amendments that could have tied sports wagering to the state budget in time for the new fiscal year that starts July 1. 

Rejected today was a Senate amendment to tether retail and online sports betting to facilities with a sports wagering lounge, such as casinos. That measure was sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr. The Senate earlier this week rejected a rival amendment by Sen. Paul Feeney to create a tiered licensing system for gaming venues, racetracks, and mobile platforms offering fantasy sports betting. 

Adoption of one of the Senate amendments would have given Massachusetts sports betting a chance at legalization during a legislative session in which more than a dozen sports betting bills have stalled.

 “Why is it that we have not yet taken the steps to capture that economic opportunity in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?” said Tarr. “(This amendment) seeks to capture an economic opportunity that we’ve consistently watched pass us by.”

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

Massachusetts lags behind the rest of the nation by not having legal sports betting, Tarr told the Senate. At least 21 states now have operational sports betting, and six more have legalized it with a launch pending.

Legalization of sports betting would allow the Bay State to compete for gambling dollars now going to New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and, soon, New York and Connecticut — the latter of which approved sports betting on Tuesday.

Massachusetts Budget Process

It is uncertain whether sports betting could still make it into the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget at this point. 

The Senate is expected to vote on its budget as amended this week. The Senate budget bill will then go to the next stage in the Massachusetts budget process called the conference committee — a group of lawmakers from the Senate and House selected to hash out budget differences.

Whatever makes it into the budget conference committee report must be voted up or down. That means anything in the report passed by the full legislature will be in the budget that is sent to Gov. Charlie Baker, who included $35 million in sports betting revenue in his budget proposal released in January. 

Brief History Behind Massachusetts Sports Betting

Last year, the Massachusetts Senate rejected sports betting as an amendment to the state’s annual budget. This year the issue lost momentum early on in the House, which didn’t include sports betting in its $47.7 billion budget plan passed in late April. 

Fans of sports betting hoped that legalization could be worked into the next budget, setting sports betting in Massachusetts up for a launch in 2021 or 2022. 

 All five of the commonwealth’s major league sports teams, plus the PGA Tour, FanDuel, DraftKings, and MGM Springfield sent a joint letter to lawmakers in Nov. 2020 imploring them to reach some agreement on legal sports betting. 

 To use a sports analogy, Massachusetts is collectively keeping our bat on our shoulder in the competition for additional jobs in the innovation economy,” the letter read. 

Why Now for Massachusetts Sports Betting? 

Legalizing sports betting in the state budget isn’t new to New England. New York did it last month, and Rhode Island included sports betting in its budget back in 2018. 

The reason why states are increasingly taking the budget approach is that sports betting — which could hit an annual handle of $10 billion in New Jersey alone by year’s end — is a state revenue issue. 

The $35 million in anticipated sports betting revenue included in Gov. Baker’s budget proposal in January is on the high end of the $11 million to $45 million in annual state revenue from sports betting projected by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in 2019, when the commission’s then-associate counsel Justin Stempeck called sports betting “a low margin business.”  

Stempeck has since become the Director of Licensing for DraftKings, whose CEO Jason Robins told state lawmakers two years ago that his company couldn’t bring more jobs to Massachusetts without legal sports betting.

DraftKings is based in Boston. 

Also supporting legal sports betting in Massachusetts is MGM Springfield. The casino — which has added nearly $1 billion to the state’s economy — lost business during the pandemic, which Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno says has impacted jobs and revenue in his city.  

A spokesman for Sarno told lawmakers this spring that bringing sports betting to Massachusetts would “definitely keep the commonwealth up to speed.” 

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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