Despite Speaker’s Optimism, Massachusetts House Excludes Sports Betting Revenue From Budget

Posted By Derek Helling on April 29, 2021 - Last Updated on April 30, 2021

Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano says sports betting legalization could happen in the Bay State this year. However, his colleagues don’t seem as optimistic.

A telling clue: The House excluded MA sports betting revenue in its budget plan.

While not a death knell for enabling legislation, it isn’t a great sign for gambling expansion proponents in the state. Funding Massachusetts programs in other ways removes a key way to sell such expansion to hesitant lawmakers.

No sports betting revenue in MA House budget plan

House leaders like Mariano are selling their budget plan to Gov. Charlie Baker and members of the Senate on several points. Those points have more to do with what isn’t in the package of bills than what does appear.

For example, the plan avoids both service cuts and tax rate hikes. While it does call for a 2.6% increase in spending compared with the previous fiscal year, it accounts for that. House members say the state collected more than it expected in tax revenue and it also got more money from the federal government.

Whether Baker and Senate leaders will be as enthusiastic remains to be seen. The House’s package does represent a 3.9% increase on Baker’s budget. The governor’s plan also called for selective spending cuts.

On the subject of reconciling the different plans, gambling expansion might be an issue. Baker has been one of the strongest proponents of legal sports betting in the commonwealth, going as far as to submit his own bill to that effect. Power players in the House like Mariano seem open to negotiations on the subject. As Mariano said:

“I think there is potential to get it [sports betting legalization] done in the House yet.”

But in this matter, actions scream so loudly that words are hard to hear. The optimistic financial situation of the commonwealth at large may diminish the motivation of officials in Boston to seek gambling expansion.

No sense of urgency on gambling expansion in MA

The wait on a sports betting bill in Massachusetts has seemingly been eternal. And there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that an end is imminent. Earlier this year, no fewer than 14 bills to legalize wagering existed simultaneously.

There are two other reasons why this issue may continue to languish. First, the volume of different proposals creates more room for debate. That takes time. Secondly, the legislature has already been working on this issue for two years. If any MA lawmakers felt any urgency to make this happen, that would have been apparent by now.

With House members seemingly confident the state can meet its obligations without any tax revenue from sports betting, the gleam of new tax dollars isn’t as enticing. Thus, the mystery of why Massachusetts hasn’t yet legalized sports betting could continue.

With a governor that’s on board, a House speaker that sees a path and myriad parties in the state that could benefit, sports betting legalization should be a no-brainer in the state. However, it could continue to be a non-issue for many in the state capital.

Photo by AP / Charles Krupa
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. 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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