Could Massachusetts Sports Betting Rise Again?

The immediate prospects for sports betting in the US state of Massachusetts look over for 2020, but the man behind the initiative is optimistic about 2021. 

Back in the summer, the picture was hopeful for proponents of sports wagering. In July, the Massachusetts House passed a new version of the state’s Economic Development Bill, which included sports betting, with a healthy 156-3 majority. 

That Bill would have allowed for a total of seven online sports wagering licenses and introduced a five-year license fee of $250,000, with a tax rate of 15%. Unfortunately for sports betting supporters, the state Senate took a hostile view, and the Bill has been stuck in Conference Committee ever since. 

But the leading sports betting proponent in the Senate, Senator Michael Brady, still believes that it is a matter of when and not if sports betting comes to the state:

“I’m a strong supporter of it, a lot of the people I’m speaking to are in support of this. I think we’ve got to get moving on it, whether it happens this year or next year.”

Behind the Game

While many neighboring states have already moved to legalization, Massachusetts remains behind the game in the New England region. Those who live in the north of the state can cross the border into New Hampshire, where DraftKings has a sportsbook operation. And sports betting fans in the south of Massachusetts have the option of betting on sports legally in neighboring Rhode Island. 

The delay in bringing in sports betting is not simply a question of state competition, however. Many districts in the state have been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic and are badly in need of funding. In fact, the state as a whole is estimated to be facing a $5 billion deficit, and with many state residents already taking part in sports betting by crossing the state border, Massachusetts is effectively missing out on a tax windfall. 

College Gaming Controversy

Yet there remains considerable controversy over some aspects of sports betting in the state, including the relationship between sports betting and college sports. 

Industry body the American Gaming Association has lobbied the Massachusetts legislature for its support in including betting on college sports if sports betting is eventually legalized in the state. This initiative was met with a letter from eight schools in the state asking for college betting to be banned. 

The AGA has insisted that the best way to ensure the protection of college athletes from potential integrity and corruption is to create a regulated sports wagering sector. 

The argument is a familiar one. By permitting wagering on college sports that is legal and regulated, it is possible to set up a system of robust monitoring, involving both regulators and relevant law enforcement bodies, which can root out illegal activities. 

It isn’t an argument that convinces everyone, and even Senator Brady has admitted that many of his constituents have expressed concerns about the principle of betting on college sports. Given the pressing need for tax revenue in the state, it is possible that legal wagering on college sports may be left out of proposals in the short term, to the frustration of many gaming operators. 

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