Blow for Massachusetts Sports Betting

The odds of the US state of Massachusetts legalizing sports betting in 2020 appeared to lengthen considerably after the state Senate revealed their budget decisions. 

In a blow to those campaigning for legalization, the Senate once again rejected a proposal that would have seen sports betting added to its fiscal 2021 budget, which is now several months late. The proposal, in the form of an amendment that would legalize sports betting, was put forward by Senator Bruce Tarr, who originally put forward legalization as part of a bill on economic development in the summer. Tarr, who is the minority leader in the Senate, proposed both retail and online sports betting in the state, but his amendment was rejected without the senators calling a vote.

Following the Senate hearing, Senate President Karen Spilka explained to a local news outlet that sports betting was not an immediate priority for the senators:

“Right now, the focus is going to be on conference committees, resolving the budget, and COVID. We’ll see, though.”

Delays and Disagreements

The progress towards sports betting in Massachusetts has been characterized by repeated disagreements and interminable delays. This is despite the fact that the state House has given their approval to sports betting legalization. 

They passed an economic development bill that included sports betting this summer by a margin of 156-3. That bill envisaged the issuing of seven sports betting licenses, offered for online betting, made up for three for the state’s casinos, one for DraftKings sportsbook, another for FanDuel Sportsbook, and provision for two more operators. 

But some of the most vocal opposition to the plans came from a duo of casino operators. Penn National and Wynn Resorts submitted a joint letter opposing the plan, arguing that they should be given the majority of licenses in the sports betting market. 

Eventually, the Senate decided that the economic bill was not the time for them to address sports betting. Senator Michael Brady, who additionally submitted sports betting amendment to the economic bill, was originally informed that sports betting would be on the table for discussion at the end of 2020. Brady has subsequently stated that he expects sports betting to be fully addressed by the time of the fiscal 2022 budget, for which discussions should begin early next year. 

Lost Revenue

Even if sports betting comes up again for consideration next year, many proponents have pointed out that the delay has already cost the state money. Two Senators spoke out openly about the missed opportunity. Sen. Patrick O’Connor said that sports betting essentially offered the state ‘free money’ while Sen. Marc Pacheo said that the state was losing much-needed revenue. It isn’t clear how much tax revenue could be at stake, but in the fiscal 2021 budget that was filed by Governor Charlie Baker, sports betting revenue was estimated to be worth $35 million. 

In the meantime, Massachusetts residents can bet on sports if they are prepared to cross into a different state. New Hampshire and Rhode Island, which border Massachusetts, both offer legal sports betting via mobile apps. The border to both states is only around an hour’s drive from the Massachusetts capital Boston, and Rhode Island, in particular, has been attempting to attract Massachusetts residents, changing the state rules this summer to allow Massachusetts residents to sign up and make sports bets using mobile devices, as soon as they cross the border.

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