Legal gambling has been expanding for the last several years in the Northeast with the opening of more casinos. The next growth area for gaming is likely to be sports betting.
For the first time since Massachusetts took a big leap in 2011 to legalize Las Vegas-style casinos, the legislature is expected to debate this year whether to allow the newest legal gambling industry in the country – betting on professional sports.
MGM Resorts International, which owns the only operating casino in Massachusetts, has been aggressive in signing sports betting deals. MGM has announced partnerships with the National Basketball Association and WNBA, the National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said there has been a huge change in public opinion on sports gambling.
MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren, speaking about the MLB deal, said the partnership will help ensure the integrity of the sport.
"I will do whatever I can as a fan, an executive in the gaming industry, and as a sports partner to ensure that this is a partnership that will last forever and is a mutual benefit to Major League Baseball and to MGM," said Murren.
A number of parties have had talks with Massachusetts lawmakers on the topic of sports betting, according to State Senator Eric Lesser.
" We've heard from everyone: the sports teams, the casino operators, opponents of legalization, and advocacy groups," said Lesser.
The Longmeadow Democrat, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies said sports betting is a complicated issue.
"There is no reason to rush," said Lesser. "We will do our due diligence, engage with the stakeholders and hopefully have a finished piece of legislation this session."
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has said he is open to exploring sports betting.
In addition to the casino operators, the Massachusetts Lottery may also want in on the sports betting action. Bills to allow the Lottery to offer online betting have been introduced in the legislature for several years but have gone nowhere.
Boston-based DraftKings wants to expand its fantasy sports business to include sports betting.
MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis said the casino is anxious to be allowed to offer sports betting to its customers.
"There is a lot of support with all stakeholders on opening up sports betting in the Commonwealth," said Mathis.
Sports betting has not historically been a big money-maker for casinos, but it is considered part of the Las Vegas casino experience, according to Mathis.
"We view it as an important amenity to deliver an overall experience and it is especially important here in Massachusetts given the success of all the sports franchises," said Mathis.
Rhode Island became the first New England state to legalize sports betting after the U.S. Supreme Court last May struck down a federal law that had prohibited every state but Nevada from allowing betting on sporting events.
The two casinos operating in Rhode Island now accept wagers on professional sports.
Connecticut’s new governor, Democrat Ned Lamont, has said he supports legalizing sports betting.