After the failure of sports betting to make the Massachusetts budget, lawmakers, sports teams, and industry leaders are rallying support for its inclusion in the economic development bill.
The economic development bill sits in a conference committee, where lawmakers have attempted to work out the differences between the versions since passed in the House and Senate in July.
Sen. Brendan Crighton told PlayMA that he expects the conference committee to come to terms on the economic development bill in the next couple of weeks.
“What happens within the conference committee stays within the conference committee, so I don’t have a great sense where that is,” Crighton said. “But in conversations with other legislators, they point to sports betting still being in there.”
Senate standing in way of MA sports betting
Crighton and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr introduced amendments to add sports betting to the Senate budget. Before the Senate voted out its budget Wednesday, Tarr’s amendment was rejected and Crighton’s withdrawn.
“I filed an amendment because I think it’s an important issue to raise,” Crighton said. “It just wasn’t the right vehicle during this time. I think right now most folks in the Senate are laser-focused on the pandemic and trying to tackle the public health crisis.”
Sources indicate that the House would have put sports betting in its budget proposal. However, designating sports betting revenue in the economic development bill precluded representatives from including it in the budget.
Sen. Marc Pacheco spoke up at the budget proceedings, expressing his desire to see sports betting done this year. After the session, he expanded on his thoughts in a phone call with PlayMA:
“I think that we should have moved forward with sports betting in the budget. I think a number of senators feel the same way because we’re already into the rainy day fund for $1.5 billion to get through the FY21 budget. We don’t have the infusion of capital needed to keep the level of services up the way they need to be funded. So, as we move forward, increasingly there will be a call for legislators to act on new revenues.”
Putting pressure on MA conference committee
Pacheco said he will submit a letter to the economic development conference committee urging them to include sports betting.
“I have had the opportunity to speak very briefly with Eric Lesser, who chairs the economic development committee and, according to him, they’re still looking at the possibility of including sports betting and negotiating,” Pacheco said. “I let him know where I’m coming from on this issue.”
Lesser has been a proponent for legalization. Joining him on the conference committee are fellow Sens. Michael Rodrigues and Patrick O’Connor, and Reps. Aaron Michlewitz, Ann-Margaret Ferrante, and Donald Wong.
With sports betting in the House version, the Senate likely would have to make a concession to get it removed. One industry source doesn’t believe the Senate feels strongly enough to trade political capital to remove sports betting.
Pacheco said he also will ask that all gaming entities in the state, including the greyhound racetrack in his district and the Massachusetts Lottery, get to participate in sports betting.
“I don’t think we should be playing favorites here,” Pacheco said. “All entities should be able to participate if we are going to be adding a new form of gaming.”
Lawmaker proposes MA sports betting changes
Sports betting language in the House economic development bill calls for a mere $250,000 as an initial license fee. Crighton’s budget amendment asked for $10 million upfront for a sports wagering license.
Crighton thinks the upfront money could help push lawmakers to pass sports betting for its economic development.
“In the past, we weren’t in the economic crunch we’re in now,” Crighton said. “So having money up front is important given our financial crisis and economic downturn. We talked to all stakeholders and it’s not unreasonable in terms of hurting their ability of doing a successful product.”
Crighton also added a prohibition of wagering on in-state collegiate athletics. Though he doesn’t believe in the ban, he thinks it has legislative support after a letter from university presidents.
“I love my Massachusetts schools but they’re not a large driver of sports betting here,” Crighton said. “I’ll continue to make the argument for allowing in-state college betting with my colleagues, but I’m trying to get the bill with the best chance of passing.”
Sports teams and industry leaders write letter
On Friday, the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, MGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and the PGA Tour sent a joint letter to members of the economic development conference committee urging the inclusion of sports betting.
The letter asserted that Massachusetts can’t afford to wait on legalizing sports betting.
“This is a unique moment for the legislature to protect consumers, create jobs, and generate an estimated $50 million in direct, annual tax revenue to the Commonwealth.”
The signers also pointed out that sports betting already is occurring in Massachusetts. A study showed that 1.4 million residents place $3.2 billion in annual wagers online in the illegal market.
“Massachusetts is collectively keeping our bat on our shoulder in the competition for additional jobs in the innovation economy. 21st century sports betting is a high-tech industry that touches on artificial intelligence, analytics, cybersecurity, data, machine learning, wearables, and virtual reality. Until sports wagering legislation is passed, these innovative companies and entrepreneurs will not be able to begin here or grow here.”
Hopes for sports betting in economic development bill
Pacheco is the dean of the Massachusetts Senate, having entered office in 1993. That gives him some sway among his colleagues that he plans to use on sports betting.
“If it’s not in the economic development bill, then I may have a problem with the economic development bill,” Pacheco said.
Sports betting’s next chance for legalization in Massachusetts likely wouldn’t be until the FY22 budget in July.
“The bill has tons of things needed for our economy, jobs, and housing,” Crighton said. “Hopefully there’s room in there for sports betting as well.”