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Massachusetts Lawmakers Will Give Sports Betting Legalization Serious Consideration


     Massachusetts officials have begun to weigh the pros and cons of legalized sports betting, along with the “hows” and “wheres.”    There are a lot of ramifications following Monday’s major decision by the Supreme Court that gave states the green light to consider legalizing waging on sports.

           Just a few hours after the high court ruling, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and the Democratic leaders of the legislature met for their regularly scheduled weekly meeting. After, none publicly committed to endorsing legal sports betting in Massachusetts.  Baker said a lot more study is needed.

   "It really becomes a question of whether people believe this ought to be part of their revenue stream and part of their entertainment industry, or not," said Baker.

   Democratic State Senator Eric Lesser of Longmeadow said a consensus is building among lawmakers that the legislature needs to move thoughtfully, but quickly on the issue.

    " Because whether we like it or not, our neighboring states Connecticut and New York are already engaging with legal changes, and we have a huge new  casino opening in Springfield on August 24 and there will be a lot of implications for them as well," said Lesser.

    A huge sum of money is at stake.  It is estimated that illegal sports betting in the United States is a $150 billion underground industry.  A white paper from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission earlier this year estimated the state could collect $8-$60 million in revenue from sports betting every year depending on how it is regulated and taxed.

  "Much like marijuana we have  an opportunity here with an industry that is, frankly, common but done in the shadows to bring it out into the open and  to regulate it and ensure important consumer  protections,"  said Lesser.

    Lesser, who is Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said he expects to hold hearings on sports betting with a goal to produce legislation before the close of the current session on July 31st.

    First, he said a decision must be made on whether or not to legalize sports betting and if that threshold decision is affirmative then a regulatory system needs to be put in place.

   "Does it have to be done only at brick and mortar casino locations?  Does it have to be online or only in person? What is the tax system? How would consumer protections be ensured?  What age -- 18 or 21 -- should be required to participate? A lot of elements need to be unpacked," said Lesser.

    Intense competition for control of the sports betting market in Massachusetts can be expected from the state’s licensed casino operators, the Massachusetts Lottery, and online fantasy sports sites.

  " I think it is going to be a free-for-all for quite some time and  the legislature is probably going to take quite a while to sort through this issue," said  Clyde Barrow, who is the chair of the political science department at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and who has long followed the New England casino market.

  He predicts it will be some time before people in most states will be legally able to place a sports wager.

  "I think it is going to be a very long time before most states sort  this out because there are  a lot of complex issues involved," said Barrow.

  MGM Springfield issued a statement applauding the Supreme Court’s ruling.

  Boston-based DraftKings, which operates online fantasy sports contests, said it has a sports betting platform ready to launch in states that move toward legalization.

  During a conference call with reporters, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said there had been preliminary discussions with Massachusetts officials.

   "I think the prevailing thought was to wait and see what the Supreme Court does and now that there has been a decision, we would expect to see a ramp-up in that discussion in Massachusetts," said Robins

  A bill pending in the Massachusetts legislature would permanently legalize and regulate online fantasy sports and create a special commission to conduct a “comprehensive study” of  online sports betting.



Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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