Will Massachusetts Sports Fans See Legal Betting In 2021?

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After years of coming close, is 2021 the year that Massachusetts will have legal sports betting? In 2020, the Massachusetts House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would permit seven Massachusetts sports betting licenses. Both DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook would have received licenses under the 2020 law. The Senate, though, did not include sports betting licenses in the economic development bill that passed at the end of 2020. 

Who’s Leading The Charge On Massachusetts Sports Betting?

According to Commonwealth Magazine, State Senator Brendan Crighton, a Democrat from Lynn, has long been one of the leaders of the Massachusetts push to legalize sports betting.

Crighton points out that given the dip in state revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic along with the potential lost revenue to New Hampshire and Rhode Island, which each allow sports betting in some form, should be sufficient motivation to get the bill passed in 2021.

According to the Dorchester Report, Crighton is also concerned about black market or illegal sports betting. Crighton believes that legalizing sports betting will bring the black market betting into legal sports betting markets. After several years of trying, Sen. Crighton believes that this is the year that a bill can pass.

Another State Senator that has had a say in Massachusetts sports betting is Sen. Eric Lesser,  a Democrat from Longmeadow. According to the Dorchester Report, Lesser believes that other nearby states passing sports betting indicates that Massachusetts should pass a law permitting it as well. 

What Is The History Of Sports Betting In America? 

Between 1992 and 2018, sports betting was generally outlawed in the United States pursuant to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA).  On May 14, 2018, the United States Supreme Court overturned PASPA in the case of Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. In Murphy, the Supreme Court found that PASPA could no longer be used to ban state-sponsored sports betting. 

Almost immediately, states began seeking to pass sports betting laws. Since the decision in Murphy, more than twenty states have passed laws permitting sports betting in some form. At least seventeen more states have introduced bills seeking to legalize sports betting. 

What Is The History Of Gambling In Massachusetts? 

Massachusetts already has legal casino gambling. According to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which was established in 2011, there are three gambling casinos and two planned Indian casinos.

One established casino was opened at Plainridge Park and primarily was used for horse racing until 2015 when it was licensed for slot machines. Two additional casinos, the Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield, have opened in recent years.

The Gaming Commission is authorized to license a fourth casino but must first work out the logistics with the Indian tribal casinos before it can be announced. Outside of horse race betting at Plainridge Park, the casinos in Massachusetts are gaming casinos and not casinos with any form of sports betting. 

Because casino gambling is already in place in Massachusetts, what is holding the state back from sports betting? It’s not infrastructure. DraftKings and FanDuel are both on board with the structure needed for Massachusetts sports betting. The local sports teams, from the Patriots to the Red Sox, are on board. Sports fans and the general public even seem to be on board.

So what is the hold up? According to writer Bill Speros in an editorial for the Boston Herald, the problem just seems to be that lawmakers cannot play nice with one another. 

Massachusetts Needs To Pass A Sports Betting Bill

Everything is in place for Massachusetts to have legal sports betting. The state has casinos, the state has sports betting companies lined up with the infrastructure and the state has companies ready to hit the ground running. The only thing holding the legalized sports betting back at this point is the state legislature.

So, when will the state legislature act? It is true that COVID-19 has disrupted a lot of legislative priorities in the past year. The need to deal with critical issues due to COVID-19’s disruptions of everyday life have likely pushed less critical matters like sports betting to the back burner.

However, every day that Massachusetts does not have legal sports betting it is losing revenue to neighboring states. It seems that there really is no discernible reason that no sports betting law has passed in Massachusetts other than simple slow-moving politics. Given the possibility for massive taxable revenue increases, the overall interest from stakeholders such as sports teams and casinos as well as the seemingly overwhelming public support, hopefully 2021 will be the year that Massachusetts is able to legalize sports betting.

Next Steps – Massachusetts Senate Bill SD 177

In January, Sen. Crichton introduced Senate Bill SD.177, this year’s version of the sports betting bill. The major difference in the 2021 bill and earlier bills is an increase in revenue through higher licensing fees and tax rates for bets, according to Commonwealth Magazine.

Some believe that the failure to pass sports gambling in the past has been the amount of tax revenue coming into the state from gambling.  

About the Author

Amber Hoffman

Amber is the Managing Editor of Gaming Today. She writes for a variety of websites in diverse industries, including gaming and travel and is a fan of international football (not "soccer") and Gaelic sports.

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