More People Can Bet Legally This Football Season - Not In Massachusetts

Sep 6, 2019

Several states including New York and Rhode Island have legalized sports betting in casinos -- and in Rhode Island's case online. Massachusetts has not taken the plunge.
Credit wikipedia.org

     The professional football season kicks off this week, but Massachusetts residents looking to place a legal wager on a game without traveling out-of-state are out of luck.

    More than a year after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave the green light for states to legalize betting on sports, lawmakers on Beacon Hill appear to be still not sold on the idea.

    Democratic State Senator Eric Lesser, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, where a bill would be crafted, said lawmakers are proceeding cautiously.

   "There are multiple decisions along the line that need to be made and we are going through that in a methodial and judicous way to make sure the bill we do produce, if we  produce one, is going to be strong and well thought out," said Lesser.

    Included on a long list of questions that need to be answered, according to Lesser, is whether to allow sports betting only at casinos, or online, or through the state lottery. Should wagering on college sports be allowed?  How high can the tax rate go to maximize revenue and drive out illegal bookmaking?

   The experiences of other states would be helpful, according to Lesser, but there is not a lot to go on.  Outside of Nevada, New Jersey, which launched sports betting in August 2018, has the longest track record.

   "There is still data we are collecting from those early case studies to inform our legislation," said Lesser.

   Lesser won’t speculate on when a bill might come out of committee for debate in the House and Senate.

  "But it will be up to the full legislature on when to move forward and there are of course a lot of other items in the queue including education funding, health care issues, transporation," said Lesser.

   House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said he supports the concept of legalizing sports betting.  A spokesperson for Senate President Karen Spilka declined comment when asked by the Boston Globe about the senator’s position on the issue.

  Republican Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation in January that would permit sports betting at the state’s three casinos and online.   He said it will make Massachusetts competitive with other states.

"Just as the big debate about casinos in Massachusetts was about all the revenue and all the commerce we were losing to Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and New York, and Vegas for that matter,we wanted to give people here in the Commonwealth an opporunity to stay in Massachusetts and sports betting falls into that category as well," said Baker.

Rhode Island became the first, and so-far only New England state, to legalize sports betting at its casinos last fall.  Just this week the Rhode Island Lottery launched a mobile app for sports gambling.

New York allows sports betting at casinos, but not online.

Mike Mathis, the president of MGM Springfield, said he is anxious for Massachusetts to legalize sports betting in casinos.

"Its something we are going to continue to push for, I dont' want to take the pressure off because it is important," said Mathis.

Speaking with reporters last month, Mathis said in some of MGM’s other properties business has jumped by as much as 10 percent after sports betting was introduced.

"People stay longer and go to restaurants and support the facility above and beyond the sports betting business," said Mathis.

Another very much interested party in the sports betting debate in Massachusetts is Boston-based DraftKings.  CEO Jason Robins said the company has an online betting platform it would like to be able to offer to people in its home state.

   "It is a $150 billion annual betting market that exists in the black market in the U.S. that just shows people want it, so why not create a safe legal environment and make some tax dollars for the state," said Robins.

  On the eve of the start of the National Football League season, a casino industry trade group released a survey that reported one in four people said they would place a bet on the NFL if it was legal in their state.