As Massachusetts considers legalizing sports betting, bar owners want in on the action.
Angling for a seat at the table as Beacon Hill begins to look at whether and how Massachusetts should legalize betting on sports, a small number of sports bar owners in western Massachusetts have formed a group called Fair Play Massachusetts.
They plan to register and raise money for a lobbying campaign, according to spokesman Ryan McCollum.
"What they are advocating for and pushing the legislature to do is to include folks like them in the discussion around legalizing sports betting," said McCollum
A bill filed by Governor Charlie Baker would legalize betting on professional sports online and at casinos in Massachusetts. Under his plan, sports betting in Massachusetts would be licensed and regulated by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which currently oversees the state’s casino and horse racing industries.
"If the state needs more revenue, which they always seem to, the more places where people can safely and legally bet on sports games, the more revenue the state will see," said McCollum.
Fair Play Massachusetts wants to legalize sports betting at bars and restaurants which currently offer keno games through the Massachusetts Lottery.
The bar owners argue limiting sports betting to just casinos and online is unfair to people who don’t live close to a casino and don’t want to download an app linked to their credit card or bank account.
Another argument the bar owners are pitching is that allowing them to operate sports books is good for local businesses.
" These establishments are small businesses that employ plenty of people, so these small businesses are important and helping attract and retain even more employees is a big deal and ( offering sports betting) would do it," said McCollum.
Initial membership in the group is modest – four establishments were identified by name in a press release – but they expect to grow as the sports betting debate gets fully engaged, according to McCollum.
"We are working hard at expanding this," he said.
The state’s casino owners are eager to offer sports betting at their establishments, as is Boston-based online fantasy sports operator DraftKings.
After the U.S. Supreme Court last year cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting, gaming industry specialist Clyde Barrow of the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley predicted that many entities in Massachusetts would vie to offer sports wagering.
" I think it is going to be a free-for-all for some time and the legislature is probably going to take quite a while to sort through this issue," predicted Barrow.
In Delaware, the state allows sports betting at state lottery agents including bars, pizza parlors, and convenience stores, according to Fair Play Massachusetts.
Rhode Island, which became the first, and so far only, New England state to legalize sports betting, allows it only at the state’s two casinos.