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Light At End Of The Tunnel: MA Legislature May Hasten Sports Betting Legalization

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The end of a long and winding road for sports betting legalization in Massachusetts may finally be in sight. Amid a recent surge of support for the move, the Massachusetts Legislature could fast-track the final execution of a proposal months in the making.

Many voices from around the state in the private sector have made themselves heard. If their allies in the legislature are successful, Massachusetts could become the third state to legalize wagering on sporting events this year.

The new push for sports betting legalization in Boston

The last few months have been a roller coaster of sorts. In mid-March, a Massachusetts House Committee finally received a package of bills. A joint legislative committee had been working on those bills for months.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Amid all the changes in procedures, schedules and other items taking higher priority than gambling expansion, it looked like the bills wouldn’t see an actual vote this year.

In an ironic twist, the very thing that once seemingly doomed the bills for this session, has now played a significant part in their possible advancement. Lawmakers in Boston are working on a legislative package to help the state’s economy recover from the pandemic.

Legalizing sports betting may be a part of that. Lawmakers might include the once-doomed bills as amendments to that package. If that’s the case, it may have a strong chance of becoming law.

Optimism about the bills’ passage in the House is high. Doubt remains more prevalent about the Senate, however. In the end, whether the bill passes may have little to do with sports wagering.

The state faces a potential budget shortfall of as much as $6 billion over the next fiscal year. Tax revenue from sports betting wouldn’t account for all of that, but it would definitely help.

Additionally, because the bills are attached to a diverse package, legislators who may not have voted for a standalone sports betting bill, may agree to these amendments anyway. It will essentially work as a compromise to get funding for other things like child care and job training.

The timing of this move is interesting given the recent flurry of public support. Some very influential voices have chimed in.

The Boston Red Sox, DraftKings, MGM Springfield speak up

Earlier this week, a representative of a coalition that includes the Boston Red Sox, DraftKings, and MGM Springfield made a sales pitch to legislators on this very subject.

The Red Sox’s Senior Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs David Friedman said,

“Four months into this pandemic, mobile sports betting takes on a new urgency for the leagues and teams. As I said, our revenues have fallen off a cliff, and so the direct financial impact of revenues for sports betting for teams may be relatively modest — we’re not going to be running sportsbooks ourselves — but today every single dollar of advertising and sponsorship revenue is extremely important to us.”

The bills, in their last incarnation, would authorize online wagering in the state. Casinos, racetracks and slot parlors in Massachusetts would also be able to offer retail wagering.

What was glaringly absent from the package was a provision for online casino play. That may prove to be a much larger windfall for jurisdictions, especially if the pandemic continues to interfere with domestic sports schedules.

There may not be sufficient time to include that in the package, however. The current legislative term ends on July 31. If the legislature does approve the package by then, there’s a good chance that Gov. Charlie Baker will give his approval as well.

Baker has been one of the strongest proponents of legal betting in the state. In 2019, he sent his own bill to the legislature on that very subject.

The best-case scenario would have Baker signing a bill to legalize sports betting early next month. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission could start working on drafting regulations soon thereafter.

Massachusetts residents may be able to place wagers on DraftKings just outside its corporate headquarters sometime next year.

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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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