Massachusetts Lawmakers Still Deciding on the Future of Sports Betting
Earlier this year, the Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, was making a strong push to legalize sports betting this legislative session. Unfortunately, those efforts appear to be fruitless because state leaders are uncertain about the future of sports betting in Massachusetts as they gather more information. They are still in a “fact-finding” phase, which dampers hopes that fans and bettors can place wagers on the NFL later this year.
Updates on the Fact-Finding Mission
If you listen to Senator Eric Lesser, who is co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, it isn’t likely that bettors will get to place wagers by time the NFL starts in September. According to WBUR on Thursday, Lesser said at a State House News Forum on sports gambling that he and his co-chair Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante are still listening to information being provided, and haven’t yet decided if they will allow online betting, what tax rate to set, and if to allow bets on collegiate games:
“We’re still in the fact-finding state of all this. As I think has been well-reported, this is a complex issue. It is an issue we want to be very diligent with and we want to make sure that if Massachusetts is to go forward with this, that we do it properly.”
Massachusetts is one of several states moving slowly towards legalization of sports betting since the Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports betting outside the United States last May. To date, eight states have since legalized and regulated the activity. There are several more on the cusp of legalization.
Sports Betting in Massachusetts
In January, Governor Charlie Baker proposed a bill that would allow sports betting through online platforms and at licensed casinos in the state. His bill would give oversight of sports betting to the Gaming Commission in Mass., which would then handle licenses and enforce consumer protections. His legislation would also require applicants to pay a $100,000 license application fee and a $500,000 renewal fee every five years.
Baker originally said he preferred for the legislature to pass a bill before August so people can place legal bets on the next NFL season. Last month, he changed that to before formal sessions this calendar year are wrapped up, moving the end date from August to Thanksgiving.
Several other lawmakers have proposed sports betting bills, but none have been approved so far.
At the end of May, there will be a two-day legislative hearing that will include a public comment period as well as invite-only testimony. The Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies will meet on May 28th to hear testimony from stakeholders and then again on May 29th to hear from members of the public.
In the meantime, the chairperson of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission says they plan to have an updated 2018 white paper on sports betting in time for the hearing.
When asked, both Ferrante and Lesser say they haven’t yet made up their own minds and opinions on how to legalize betting, or if they even should. There’s a lot to think about, like how to ensure the integrity of the games, a tax rate, if the Massachusetts State Lottery will play a role, and how to manage risks that come with accepting wagers. Legislators will also have to consider integrity fees.
For sports betting proponents in Massachusetts, it’s been difficult to see neighboring states like Connecticut and Rhode Island enjoying sports betting revenue. Additionally, both New York and Maine are closer to legalization than MA, which seems to really embrace the motto “slow and steady wins the race.” Unfortunately, Massachusetts is losing the race due to how slow they’re moving on this growing industry.
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