Massachusetts Sports Betting Bill Might Become A Casualty Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

Posted on April 17, 2020

Earlier this month, it looked like all the wait for a surefire Massachusetts sports betting bill was over. Even a bill that a Massachusetts legislative committee has worked on for months isn’t immune to the current coronavirus pandemic, however.

Because the Massachusetts Legislature is dealing with higher priorities and a shortened calendar, the bill may simply be left to languish. Because of that, the Legislature may not enact the bill or one like it for another year.

Why the Massachusetts sports betting bill is seemingly on life support right now

H 4559 progressed to the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee for review the day before the NBA suspended its season. According to MA Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Vice Chair Sen. Brendan Crighton, that was a precursor to informing House members about the bill and debate on its merits.

At the time, Crighton was very optimistic about its passage. Since the pandemic broke out, however, Crighton has changed his tune. He now expresses serious doubts that the bill will even see a floor debate, much less receive approval.

“It’s all up in the air now given the crisis we’re dealing with. If you talked to me a month ago, this would be a different conversation. It will probably get pushed to next year, but I don’t have a crystal ball. We’re in unprecedented times here. Maybe with more time in the session, there will be an opportunity. It’s too early to tell.”

Crighton stated that the focus in the MA Legislature is on other matters right now. He did express a hope that the body might extend its current term past the standing July 31 deadline, but that’s up in the air right now as well.

Possible strategies to move the bill forward at this point

If the MA Legislature does extend its session, there might be some selling points. For example, proponents could sell sports betting as a new source of revenue for the state. Job creation might be another talking point for advocates.

That’s only if the session runs long and the climate is right, however. Pushing the matter too hard may actually backfire. Politics, like a pass in basketball or taking a swing at a fastball, is a matter of timing.

Speaking of the long-term future of legal gambling expansion in MA, it might be best to wait until the next session. If proponents of the bill rush it to the floor, it’s possible that members of the Legislature might vote it down because they don’t feel they have adequate information.

A defeat at this juncture could delay the process even further than allowing the bill to die in committee. If the bill never comes up for a vote during this term, it’s possible that a Massachusetts legislator could essentially re-introduce it in the next term without making wholesale changes.

Either way, it looks as though the wait in MA will continue. It’s uncertain exactly how long right now but it’s hard to blame MA legislators for having other priorities during this pandemic. When governments lift their restrictions, then the body can resume its work on this matter.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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