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Massachusetts Legislators Have To Make Decisions On Sports Betting Bills Soon

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Massachusetts legislators won’t be able to delay the inevitable anymore. The next-to-last day in February this year brings a sports betting bill deadline with it.

On Feb. 28, the time frame to work on perfecting a legislative package expires. That package includes several bills that would legalize wagering on sporting events in the Bay State.

What the sports betting bill deadline means

After Friday, Massachusetts legislators have to make some decisions. That doesn’t necessarily mean immediate action, however.

Members of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emergent Technologies could opt to simply let the bills die. Although they haven’t held a formal hearing on this matter since last July, the fact that these bills were included in a recent extension suggests that won’t be the case.

While the committee may eventually vote on the bills, there’s no timeline for when those votes could happen. Additionally, those votes could simply just send the bills on to different committees in the Massachusetts House and Senate.

One of those bills was filed last year by the state’s governor, Charlie Baker. Baker recently went on the airwaves to discuss the issue.

Gov. Baker’s latest comments on the legal process

Baker’s statements on WEEI radio didn’t contain much news or anything different from his previous comments. He reiterated that he has been pressing legislators on the issue.

I bring this issue up on a relatively frequent basis with my colleagues in the Legislature and have not made much progress on it. You’re reminding me; I will bring it up again.

Baker also stressed he sees the matter as an important way for his state to stay competitive with its neighbors.

Right now, most of the New England states are either doing it or going to be doing it soon. And it seems to me like this is something that is going to become available in most states … and people in Massachusetts should be able to play in Massachusetts.

The governor’s concerns on both counts are legitimate. As Massachusetts legislators have deliberated, New Hampshire and Rhode Island have rolled out legal sportsbooks.

In addition to that, Vermont has started moving toward legalization and New York is considering expanding its legal framework.

If at least one of the bills doesn’t become law before the legislative session ends in July, Baker and legislators would essentially have to start over from scratch in the next term. That could mean many more months of Massachusetts residents giving tax dollars to other states.

Getting enough representatives and senators on board with the proposals requires a consensus on three main issues. Right now it’s unclear how divided legislators are.

The three issues facing sports betting legalization

These issues focus on accessibility, inclusion and taxation. Because it’s been so long since there was any public debate on the bills, it’s difficult to infer what the popular sentiments are.

The first issue is all about whether to include online wagering in a legal framework. For many reasons, it would be difficult for future potential legal sportsbooks in Massachusetts to compete if the activity is restricted to brick-and-mortar facilities.

The next could be the most contentious, unfortunately. The state needs to decide whether to include betting on college sports in its legal wagering.

Finally, the state needs to decide how much to tax legal sportsbooks and how to earmark those funds. This could be the facet with the biggest variety of ideas.

While legislators technically have until July to finalize this process, they have to get to work on it to some degree now. They have run out of their allotted time to put the matter off.

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About

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. 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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