If one grassroots lobbying group in Massachusetts gets its way, you may soon be able to walk into a local bar, order a burger, beer, and a $50 bet on the New England Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
Fair Play Massachusetts is asking the state to consider making sports betting an option anywhere Keno is played. This includes lottery licensed local bars, restaurants, and convenience stores.
Six other states have launched legal sports betting since May 2018, when the US Supreme Court lifted a federal ban. This includes the neighboring state of Rhode Island, which now offers legal sports betting at its two casinos.
Several other states are now considering it.
In fact, sports betting has emerged as a popular issue across the country. The Massachusetts Legislature has put it near the top of its agenda.
Massachusetts sports betting bills
In January, Gov. Charlie Baker and four different Massachusetts Senators introduced five separate bills seeking the legalization of sports betting. Most include authorizing the launch of sportsbooks online and at Massachusetts casinos. The Senate has assigned all five bills to committee for further study.
Given that some Massachusetts bar and restaurant owners want to be among the places that can take bets, lobbying group Fair Play Massachusetts is full steam ahead.
Spokesperson Ryan McCollum told The Reminder community newspaper the group has contacted other licensed lottery agents. He says they haven’t met a single one that doesn’t like the idea.
Bar and restaurant owners want in
Bill Stetson owns the Collegian Court restaurant and Rumbleseat Bar and Grille in Chicopee. Both locations currently offer Keno. Stetson told The Reminder sports betting can really help keep the operations afloat:
“Sports betting isn’t for everybody, nor is it for every keno operator, but having the option will help some places retain and attract clientele. Small businesses like mine are being hit with more costs due to health care and a new rise in the minimum wage. This is an easy ‘two birds with one stone’ way to help lessen the blow to a segment of small local businesses all while raising more needed revenue.”
Joe Sullivan owns Nathan Bill’s in Springfield. He says the state should legalize sports betting. But when it does, it’s only fair that bars and restaurants offering Keno be able to take bets:
“If it is going to be legalized why not allow us to take wagers? The technology is there with the infrastructure the Lottery has now. Giving our adult patrons a safe and legal place to maybe throw down a little on a game while also enjoying the game at our establishment will help us in a big way.”
Fair Play Massachusetts wants a seat at the table
McCollum wants the group to have a seat at the table in any discussions about legal sports betting. He says the Fair Play Massachusetts argument is a simple one:
“This is about four simple things: revenue, jobs, fairness and safety. Each year the Commonwealth, along with our 351 cities and towns, are trying to find new revenue streams. Allowing some current Keno operators to take sports bets would increase the amount of revenue the state receives above and beyond just having bets made in casinos and online.
“The best part: it keeps the money to local. Granting people in our bars and restaurants the ability to bet helps their local economy and, in turn, generates more money for small businesses to create more jobs. Limiting the brick and mortar places to bet to just casinos and online is patently unfair to those who want to partake in an activity that is now legal, but don’t want to download an app connected to their credit card or bank account. Or, they don’t live in areas of the state that are close to casinos.
“Lastly, the more places where a person can safely and legally place a sports wager, the more it will negatively impact the unregulated and unsafe world of black market sports books.”
Fair Play Massachusetts has launched a Facebook page. Additionally, the group is encouraging people to sign an online petition supporting legal sports betting at licensed Massachusetts Lottery retailers at Change.org.