Massachusetts Lt. Governor Candidate Says Legalizing Sports Betting a Priority

Posted on: January 5, 2022, 02:22h. 

Last updated on: January 5, 2022, 02:46h.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced last month that he will not seek a third term. As a result, a slew of candidates are emerging, and one state lawmaker who plans to be on the Democratic ticket says sports betting should be legalized before the 2022 gubernatorial showdown.

Massachusetts sports betting Eric Lesser
Massachusetts Sen. Eric Lesser speaks at the Forest Park Farmers Market last month. The state senator is seeking the office of lieutenant governor. (Image: Senator Eric Lesser)

State Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Hampden and Hampshire) has been championing sports betting bills since the US Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on the gambling activity in May of 2018. The Harvard-educated, attorney-turned- politician wants Massachusetts to legalize sportsbooks before the governor’s race heats up.

My hope is that we can get that done long before the campaign,” Lesser told MassLive this week. “Keep in mind the election is 10, 11 months from now.”

Lesser announced yesterday his intentions to run for lieutenant governor of the commonwealth. His sports betting comments came just hours after declaring his 2022 campaign to seek the state’s second-most powerful executive position.

Lieutenant governors are elected in conjunction with the governor, not individually. Lesser has not revealed a gubernatorial running mate. Should she decide to run, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) would likely be the front-runner, state political pundits say.

Repeated Delays

Since the 2018 landmark SCOTUS decision on sports gambling, more than 30 states have passed laws to legalize sports betting. Massachusetts politicians haven’t been able to settle on governing terms to allow people inside the commonwealth to legally wager on their beloved Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox.

The state House almost unanimously passed a sports betting bill last year. But the legislation wasn’t acted on in the Senate. A variety of concerns impeded the process, most importantly which entities should be allowed to participate.

The Massachusetts Legislature reconvened yesterday. Lesser says it’s long past due to get a sports betting bill to Baker’s desk. The governor has expressed his support for authorizing sports betting.

Lesser believes legalizing sports betting is of paramount importance, and he explains that it will be something he talks about on his forthcoming campaign trail.

Massachusetts’ three commercial casinos — Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park — have asked the state to allow betting on professional and collegiate sports. Gaming industry representatives argue that refraining from doing so puts their casinos at a competitive disadvantage with casinos in neighboring Rhode Island and Connecticut, where such gambling is permitted.

Both states permit retail and mobile sports betting. Online and in-person sportsbooks additionally operate in New Hampshire.

Baker agrees that Massachusetts should allow casinos to run sportsbooks to keep such gaming revenue in Massachusetts.

Fiscal Projections

House Bill 3993, the sports betting statute that passed the House last July by a vote of 156-3, sought to allow the three casinos to incorporate sportsbooks. The legislation also set aside sports betting privileges for the state’s two simulcasting facilities.

Gross gaming revenue (GGR) from land-based sportsbooks would be subject to a 12.5 percent tax. Mobile sportsbook GGR would be taxed slightly higher at 15 percent.

State fiscal estimates believe Massachusetts could receive upwards of $60 million a year from a mature sports betting market.

In New Jersey, which is today the state that takes the most legal betting action on sports, taxes from retail and mobile sports betting totals $95.14 million through 11 months in 2021. More than 93 percent of the sportsbook tax money was generated online.