NIL And The Massachusetts Sports Betting Debate

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College sports betting in Massachusetts hinges, for now, on a bill pending in the state House. Its future is less likely down the hall in the Senate, where a competing proposal sponsored by Sen. Eric Lesser would legalize sports betting except on college games. 

The Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies chairman’s proposal would exclude collegiate betting altogether. That contrasts with the House bill, which would place college sports among its offerings with the exception of prop bets on individual performance.  

Both bills were green-lighted by Lesser’s committee this past week, making them the frontrunners for state legislative approval this year. That means Lesser’s bill, if left unamended, could be Massachusetts’ best chance for legalized sports betting in 2021 or 2022 should the House proposal stall. 

It goes without saying that not all bettors will be happy with legislation that prohibits wagers on college games. But Lesser’s bill raises some legal questions, too. 

NIL And Massachusetts Sports Betting

Take, for instance, how a sports betting bill that prohibits wagers on college sports and athletic events jibes with the NCAA’s new NIL rules that took effect this month. 

Could a prohibition on college sports betting in the state hurt an athlete’s NIL profit margin, and what are the ramifications of that? 

They are good questions. After all, college athletes in Massachusetts will no doubt expect to start making money from endorsements and other offers now that the NCAA has loosened its longtime restrictions against NIL (name, image and likeness) compensation. The NCAA policy changes were handed down in late June after an NIL antitrust ruling against the organization was upheld by the SCOTUS earlier in the month. 

Colleges and universities — including schools in Massachusetts — have worked furiously in recent weeks to adjust their rules under the new NCAA policy. State legislatures have also gotten involved, with at least a dozen or so states having passed NIL freedom laws at last count.

Massachusetts isn’t one of those states, but it could be. Three NIL bills are now pending on Beacon Hill including H.1340, a House bill filed by Republican Steven Howitt with at least 13 cosponsors. Another is a Senate bill filed by Democrat Sen. Barry Finegold. 

Noticeably absent as a cosponsor to Finegold’s bill, so far at least, is fellow Democrat Sen. Lesser. 

Will Lesser Bend? 

The senator from Longmeadow said on Bloomberg Baystate Business yesterday that he’s waiting to see what happens with the House’s proposal before he decides his next step. That proposal was approved today by House Ways and Means and is expected to go to the House floor tomorrow. 

“There are a lot of things that are different in all of the proposals,” Lesser said, referring to 20 or so total sports betting bills filed this session. “They vary widely in what they allow and don’t allow, what they set up and don’t set up,” including college betting. 

Lesser emphasized that his proposal would legalize sports betting for professional sports only. And he’s sticking to that, for now.

“Look, I get it, we all love March Madness — college sports is big business,” Lesser said. “But we’ve got to be deliberate about making sure we’re not opening Pandora’s Box when it comes to betting what are essentially kids who aren’t paid to play their sports.” 

Lesser held his ground when asked on the air about the SCOTUS ruling that frees up college athletes to make money off their sport. 

“I’m not saying you don’t have it ever,” he said. “I’m saying right now why don’t we just get started with getting pro sports up and running.” 

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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