Hope For Massachusetts Sports Betting Legislation In 2021 Seems All But Gone

Posted By Justin Russo on October 6, 2021

Despite hope from many residents and lawmakers, the Massachusetts Senate will likely not pass the state’s sports betting bill by the end of the year.

The bill, titled H 3977, was approved by a vote of 156-3 in July by the House, but the Senate has other issues that it plans to address first which could leave the sports betting bill to not be handled until at least next year.

This is the second sports betting bill that has reached the Senate in the last two years, with the last being struck down in late 2020.

What is the issue in the Senate?

With many issues on the docket for the Senate before their holiday recess at Thanksgiving, Senate President Karen Spilka feels that sports betting isn’t a priority at the moment. In speaking to State House News Service, she said:

“We have to do redistricting, we have to close out the books and do a (supplemental) budget, we need to do a more permanent Votes act, our temporary (provisions) end in December. Some of it will depend upon bandwidth and how it stands.”

Spilka offered a similar sentiment during last year’s session when the Senate struck down the first sports betting bill, as she cited pandemic-related issues that made the 2020 sports betting bill a low-priority item.

The writing may have been on the wall for this year’s bill to be delayed after what happened last month in the legislature.

In September, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies met for the first time since the House passed the bill in July. However, that meeting was labeled as “gaming legislation beyond sports betting,” indicating that sports betting wasn’t even a priority among the state’s gaming issues.

With seemingly so much momentum for legalized sports betting coming to a screeching halt this fall in the Senate, many are left wondering what’s next for sports betting in Massachusetts, if anything at all.

The future of sports betting in Massachusetts

The hope for sports betting’s legalization in Massachusetts by the end of 2021 seems all but gone as of now. There are only six weeks until the legislature’s recess on Thanksgiving, and the next formal session doesn’t take place until Jan. 5 of next year.

Spilka did offer some insight regarding the bill saying that the Senate Ways and Means Committee is “looking at it,” but it appears it will fall by the wayside in favor of more pressing issues that are present for the legislature.

Though progress likely won’t be made by the end of this year, the bill still has a lot of support in the state. There is hope it will finally be dealt with in next year’s session.

Even Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker voiced his support for legalized sports betting on Twitter last month before the New England Patriots’ opening game.

His last sentence outlines what is becoming a major issue for Massachusetts in recent months. Just last week, Connecticut began its legalized sports betting operation, joining Rhode Island and New Hampshire as states with legalized sports betting that border Massachusetts. New York could join that list if and when it launches sports betting.

Massachusetts is quickly falling behind in New England in regards to sports betting and losing potential customers and revenue to its neighboring states by dragging its feet on its sports betting legislation. And now with added excitement over the Boston Red Sox advancing in the American League playoffs, each day that passes by represents another missed opportunity for revenue for the state as customers flock elsewhere to bet on games.

Hope turns to next year

For now, the waiting game will continue for legalized sports betting in Massachusetts. Hope turns to next year’s legislative session, where the bill may be higher on the Senate’s priority list should it work through its other matters in the coming weeks.

Despite support for the effort, nothing is certain. Supporters will surely hope that the bill can get passed next year so they don’t have to fight for a third time to finally get sports betting legalized in Massachusetts.

Photo by AP / Charles Krupa
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Justin Russo

Now a freelance journalist, Justin Russo graduated from UNLV with a degree in journalism. He has covered both professional and collegiate sports in Las Vegas for UNLV's student-run radio station and newspaper, while also serving as a sports betting intern at ESPN.

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