Massachusetts professional sports teams have asked lawmakers for changes in legislation to assure their participation in online and retail MA sports betting. The teams sent a letter to conference committee members working on sports betting legislation.
Dave Friedman, executive vice president of legal and government affairs for the Boston Red Sox, first mentioned that teams were lobbying for Massachusetts sports betting licensing opportunities Sunday during a panel at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference in Boston.
“We’re focused with the leagues and the other pro teams on a different concept, which is what some states like Illinois, Arizona, Washington DC, Virginia and Ohio have done,” Friedman said. “Which is to say, when you have licenses for sports betting, give the pro teams or venues a licensing opportunity whether you’re the license holder or whether with a partnership with an operator.”
Friedman provided PlayMA with a copy of the letter that contained the language requested by sports teams.
Details of MA sports betting letter from teams
The letter urges conference committee members to “adopt the Senate’s framework, with modifications that grant preferential treatment to Category 2 license applications associated with pro sports teams and venues.”
Key requests in the letter include:
- Allowing for 10 Category 2 licenses, permitting the operation of a sports wagering facility and one mobile platform;
- Clarifying the eligibility of the owner of a MA professional sports franchise or venue;
- Requiring the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to give preference to applications from owners of sports franchises or venues;
- Sports teams/venues applying for a license in conjunction with a designated operator.
According to the letter:
“The preference we are requesting would replicate a successful model that is becoming the norm in states with multiple professional sports teams and venues.”
It’s the same language included in Amendment 58, which was withdrawn on the Senate floor. The amendment was offered by five state senators, including conference committee member Sen. Patrick O’Connor.
As explained in the letter:
“Our requested measures in a final sports betting bill will encourage fans to transition away from illegal, unregulated markets, protect the integrity of legal betting, and create a market structure that harnesses the immense value that our organizations bring to local communities and the commonwealth as a whole. Simply put, under our envisioned legal framework, all major stakeholders – including our teams – will be incentivized and equipped to establish a robust and responsible sports betting market.”
Who sent the MA sports betting letter and where?
The letter, dated May 25, is addressed to the six conference committee members:
- Sens. Michael Rodrigues, Eric Lesser and O’Connor
- Reps. Aaron Michlewitz, Jerald Parisella and David Muradian
Gov. Charles Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano were CC’d.
Massachusetts’ five professional sports teams and the PGA Tour put their names on the letter:
- Charlie Jacobs, CEO, Boston Bruins (NHL)
- Rich Gotham, president, Boston Celtics (NBA)
- Sam Kennedy, president and CEO, Boston Red Sox (MLB)
- Jonathan Kraft, president, New England Patriots (NFL)
- Brian Bilello, president, New England Revolution (MLS)
- Leonard Brown Jr, chief legal officer, PGA Tour
Economic development potential of team sportsbooks
The teams ask for sportsbooks adjacent to their stadiums and arenas because of league rules.
Major League Baseball does not allow sportsbooks in ticketed areas of the stadium. Friedman said the Red Sox would evaluate restaurants attached to or around Fenway Park to host a sportsbook if given a license.
In the letter, team executives lauded the economic development potential of having sportsbooks adjacent to their stadiums.
“In-person sportsbook operations adjacent to pro sports venues would further increase fan engagement, and the overall model would generate additional funds that each local Massachusetts team (and in- state professional golf event) could then use to reinvest into the local community.”
How request compares with current legislation
Sports betting language passed by the Senate in April included six Category 2 licenses, with one sportsbook facility required in each of four state regions.
Friedman said the Red Sox might be able to participate under the current Senate language. However, the vague language leaves that uncertain. Having four of six sportsbook facilities in different regions ensures not all Massachusetts pro sports teams could get one.
Massachusetts casinos are earmarked licenses through Category 1.
In the House bill, sports teams may be able to partner with operators for an online license. However, there is no path for them to have physical sportsbooks.
Friedman indicated the teams originally lobbied for guaranteed licenses in the House and Senate bills. Realizing lawmakers want to maintain competitive bidding for the application process, the teams softened that ask to receiving preference.
“We had initially proposed having more hardwiring a license to professional teams like in other states,” Friedman told PlayMA. “Instead of chasing something not in either the Senate or House bill, this is a scaled-back option. We think it’s an approach along the lines of what the Senate bill already has. It’s just tweaking the Senate bill. Realistically, we think that’s possible.”
Massachusetts lawmakers must act on sports betting legislation by July 31 to pass the issue this year. Parisella recently expressed hope that the conference committee can reach an agreement by the deadline.
“The way I put it to these folks is you have these sportsbooks now in Wrigley, in National Stadium in DC and Arizona, so why wouldn’t you do that here?” Friedman said. “What’s the reason not to? I don’t think there’s a particularly good reason not to do it here, too, to have a sportsbook next to Fenway.”
Official league data requested in letter
In addition to the licensing preference, sports teams asked the conference committee to include the House language allowing a sports governing body to ask the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to require operators to use official league data to settle tier 2 sports wagers.
The teams say the official league data provisions are similar to those used in Arizona, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia.
The letter contends:
“The modern, mobile sports betting experience is increasingly characterized by in-play betting, prop betting, and the ultimate combination of those two: “micro-betting” (i.e., betting on the outcome of events that are about to occur in real time, such as the next pitch in baseball or the next play in football). To adequately protect the consumers placing those wagers and to maximize the fan engagement created by those betting markets, operators must rely on real-time, accurate, and reliable data feeds.”