Massachusetts Sports Betting, Third Resort Casino Omitted from Stimulus Bill

Posted on: January 7, 2021, 11:06h. 

Last updated on: January 7, 2021, 01:12h.

Massachusetts lawmakers moved an economic development bill through the Legislature this week, but it did not include sports betting. The omnibus also did not encourage state gaming regulators to consider a third integrated resort casino.

Massachusetts sports betting casino
Massachusetts casinos have struggled during COVID-19. Sports betting would help, but Bay State lawmakers won’t contemplate the issue until sometime this spring. (Image:

The $626.5 million stimulus package — “An Act to encourage new development and usher in a recovering economy” — provides funding for paycheck protection, small business grants, restaurant relief, and low-income housing. While many lawmakers, including Gov. Charlie Baker (R), pushed for sports betting to be legalized, the expanded gambling was left out of the 101-page bill.

Newly minted Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Norfolk) called the exclusion of sports betting “a shame.”

If I could, we’d have a [sports betting] deal,” Mariano told Bloomberg Baystate Business radio regarding sports betting’s absence. “We’re going to have to come back to it.”

Mariano said the state Senate is to blame, as sports betting was part of the House version of the economic development bill. The upper chamber, however, removed it. Sports betting, Mariano says, will be considered during the legislature’s spring session.

Region C Casino

Under the 2011 Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act, up to three Category 1 destination resort casinos with slot machines and table games were authorized in three regions of the state.

Encore Boston Harbor holds the Region A permit, and MGM Springfield Region B. Plainridge Park is the lone slots-only facility, which was also authorized under the 2011 legislation. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) can still award one final destination resort casino. The license is earmarked for the counties of Bristol, Plymouth, Nantucket, Dukes, and Barnstable.

The MGC has held off on issuing the license because of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s efforts to build a $1 billion integrated resort casino in Taunton. The project has been stalled in numerous courts.

In 2015, the US Department of the Interior accepted 151 acres of land into the federal trust that the tribe had acquired. But Interior reversed its decision under the Trump administration.

A Biden administration, with Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), expected to be Interior secretary, could again reverse the land determination. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland would become the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet and head the Interior Department.

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Vice Chair Jessie “Little Doe” Bird called Haaland’s appointment “great news.”

However, a scandal involving former Mashpee Chief Cedric Cromwell is expected to further complicate the tribe’s casino ambitions. Cromwell was indicted last month on federal bribery and extortion charges in relation to the casino development.

Casino Shelved

The economic development bill sent to Baker’s desk for approval does not urge the MGC to reopen its Region C considerations. An earlier version of the stimulus package when it was in the House would have required the MGC to conduct a review of the feasibility of a third Category 1 casino and submit a report to the state legislature.

Despite not being required to revisit the matter, the MGC says it plans to do just that on its own accord sometime this year. Of course, the ongoing legal proceedings with Mashpee will impact the final determination.

A tribal casino resort in Taunton would likely result in the MGC formally folding on the Region C permit because of market saturation concerns. The region is already home to two casinos — Twin River and Tiverton Casino Hotel — just across the border in Rhode Island.