Wait until next year has become a familiar refrain when it comes to Massachusetts sports betting.
This year was supposed to be different. In January, Sen. Eric Lesser told PlayMA that he expected to legalize sports betting in 2021. He even called it an “absolute possibility” for Massachusetts to have legal sports wagering operational by the NFL season.
Lesser and the Senate had the opportunity to make that happen after the House sent over a sports betting bill in July. While passing the bill by an overwhelming 156-3 margin, House members called on the Senate to act.
But the Senate didn’t even look at sports betting the rest of the year, leaving House lawmakers frustrated.
Rep. Andy Vargas, who helped craft the bill passed by the House as vice-chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, told PlayMA:
“It’s just another year where we lose out on the revenue and the black market continues to capitalize on the fact that we don’t have a regulated environment for sports betting. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully next year, 2022, can finally be the year.”
MA sports betting’s progress in 2021
Early signs pointed to 2021 being the year Massachusetts legalized sports betting.
Bay State lawmakers introduced at least 14 sports wagering bills this session. And half of those bills came from the Senate side.
But as the year neared its stretch run, Senate President Karen Spilka said sports betting wasn’t a Senate priority. It’s the second year in a row the House passed sports betting legislation. Last year, the House included sports betting language in an economic development bill.
Members of the House are left wondering what it will take to get the Senate to act.
“We passed it, so I’d say we did our job,” Vargas said. “We’re just waiting.”
Sports betting border wars in New England
Next year will be the fourth year of sports betting discussions in the Massachusetts legislature.
After 2021, Massachusetts residents have even more options to access regulated sports betting in neighboring states.
Connecticut legalized sports betting this year, and it’s already up and running. New York legalized online wagering, with a launch expected early in 2022. New Hampshire and Rhode Island already had sports wagering.
Vargas noted that he lives right on the border of New Hampshire. He said people from his district walk across the border to place bets at DraftKings Sportsbook at The Brook.
“I see it on my feed every weekend, folks from Massachusetts sharing that they are in New Hampshire placing bets,” Vargas said. “It’s just revenue we’re missing out on.”
Will MA legalize sports betting in 2022?
Here are five reasons to have confidence in MA passing sports betting legislation in 2022:
- Legislation introduced in 2021 carries over to 2022. In essence, the House legislation begins in the Senate, assigned to the Ways and Means Committee. Lesser’s Senate bill and others also are in Ways and Means.
- DraftKings has its headquarters in Boston. It hasn’t helped yet, but lawmakers appreciate that one of the biggest sports betting companies is in the state.
- The pressure from other states is adding up. Massachusetts lawmakers can see the state is falling behind.
- Gov. Charlie Baker strongly supports legalization. He filed his sports betting bill for the second time. At the start of the NFL season, he tweeted, “it’s time to act and get this done.”
- Vargas said sports betting is a priority of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.
The sports betting bill passed by the House includes a study on the participation of businesses owned by minorities, women, and veterans.
Vargas said the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus would push for legislation to increase inclusion in the Massachusetts gambling industry.
“We have a vested interest in getting some of the racial equity language in the House bill done,” Vargas said. “It’s a priority for the Black and Latino Caucus that this gets addressed.”
In a typical Massachusetts legislative session, standalone legislation doesn’t pass early in the year. However, Vargas doesn’t see this as a typical year.
So much of the 2021 session focused on COVID recovery efforts. Other issues could get attention early in 2022.
“I think there’s definitely still a possibility that it could get done early in the year,” Vargas said. “Hopefully, it will be early in 2022. I don’t want to wait that long.”