Massachusetts Bickers On Sports Betting, Debate Stalls Legalization

Posted on: March 3, 2021, 03:13h. 

Last updated on: March 3, 2021, 03:26h.

Massachusetts is home to one of the nation’s largest and best-known sports betting operators. But DraftKings’ sportsbook still cannot conduct business in its base jurisdiction.

Massachusetts sports betting Charlie Baker
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, seen here last October delivering his 2021 budget address, believes sports betting should be legal and regulated in the state. But lawmakers are struggling to come to terms on how the expanded gambling should operate. (Image: Boston Herald)

Three of Massachusetts’ neighbors have legal, regulated sports betting — Rhode Island, New York, and New Hampshire. Connecticut is in the process of allowing its two tribes to operate books, and lawmakers in Vermont are considering sports betting legislation, too.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) supports expanding gambling to allow sports betting. But lawmakers in the Boston capital continue to delay its arrival.

There’s been numerous failed legislative attempts to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts since the US Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on such gambling in May of 2018.

Five pieces of legislation that would legalize sports gambling in some manner have been introduced during the state’s 2021 legislative session. But there remain differing opinions on how sports betting should operate.

Mass Opinions

Baker has introduced a sports betting proposal that would task the Massachusetts Gaming Commission with determining how many retail and mobile sports betting permits to issue. The governor suggests charging a one-time $100,000 licensing fee, with annual renewals at $500,000.

Unlike other legislation, online skins — aka internet sportsbooks — would not need to be tethered to one of the state’s three brick-and-mortar casinos — Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park.

Gross gaming revenue from mobile sports betting would be taxed at 12.5 percent, and 10 percent on retail wagering.

Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Essex) has a different plan. His sports betting legislation would allow casinos and pari-mutuel betting venues to incorporate sportsbooks into their facilities. Each casino and pari-mutuel sportsbook would be afforded a set number of mobile skins.

Another idea, recently introduced by Reps. Adam Gomez (D-Springfield) and Orlando Ramos (D-Springfield), would allow sports betting to operate in bars, restaurants, convenience stores, and other small businesses. Gomez and Ramos believe sports betting should not be monopolized by the state’s three commercial casinos.

There’s also a House bill that would allow the state’s three casinos to become sportsbook destinations, and also allow DraftKings and FanDuel to apply for mobile sports betting rights. Two additional mobile skins would be available for online sportsbook operators that are active in at least two states.

Senator Opposes Sports Betting

While there are many opinions on how to best legalize sports betting, there are also some who oppose bringing such gambling to the state. One person is Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Middlesex).

Eldridge, who took office in 2009, fought against the state’s Expanded Gaming Act, which was signed in 2011 by then-Gov. Deval Patrick (D). The bill authorized as many as three commercial casinos with slots and table games, plus a slots-only facility.

Eldridge says no further gambling should be authorized.

With people’s limited dollars for entertainment and for recreation, if it all goes into a casino, then that is money that is not spent at the local restaurant or museum or in the community,” Eldridge told the State House News Service this week.

Eldridge opined that Massachusetts residents should spend their money on local businesses, not “at a big corporate casino.”