Massachusetts Rolls the Dice Again on Sports Betting

Sports betting enthusiasts in the US state of Massachusetts had a disappointing 2020, but some in the state are confident that things will be different in 2021. 

Massachusetts came close to legalization last year, but the legalization issue was eventually swerved and didn’t feature in an economic development bill.

But Sen. Brendan Crighton, who has fought to legalize sports betting in the state for many years, thinks that 2021 could be different. Crighton said that the bill had been modified over the last few years but that he was confident in the current draft. 

State Revenue

One factor in favor of legalization in 2021 is the pressing need for an increase in state revenue due to the effect of the coronavirus pandemic. That issue, in conjunction with pressure from legal sports betting markets in the neighboring states of New Hampshire and Rhode Island, along with the possibility of legalization in Connecticut this year, could ensure sufficient support. 

Crighton has indicated that he could file this year’s legislation as soon as next week, and speaking to the US media this week, indicated some of the main changes from the previous bill. The most significant change will be the application fee for sports betting operators. This has now been set at $10 million, which is up from $1 million last year

With both casinos and horse tracks intended to be eligible to offer all forms of sports betting that could raise as much as $70 million in revenue for Massachusetts before a single bet is placed. The sports betting revenue itself will be taxed at a rate of 15% for retail and online betting. According to Crighton, this level of taxation will strike the right balance between maximizing revenue and enabling regulated betting operators to compete with overseas sportsbooks. 

The bill also proposes a ban on betting in any events that feature collegiate teams from the state, although that represents a softening on last year’s proposal from Gov. Charlie Baker that would have banned all betting on college sports. 

No Promises

One detail missing from the proposals is the number of skins a racetrack or casino would be able to license to sportsbooks. But Crighton doesn’t expect any further changes to the existing proposals. 

Although the senator didn’t go as far as guaranteeing that there would be legalized sports betting this year, he said that there was less work to do on educating legislators this time round:

“Conversations have been happening throughout the fall and throughout the year on this bill. It’s not like we’re filing a new bill. A version of it already got reported out of committee, a version of it already got debated in the House.”

Crighton may be ready to go, but it is not yet clear when the issue will be able to come up for debate. The official 2020 session has only just ended, and it could yet be sometime before committee structures, and other logistical issues are resolved. But Crighton, who serves as VP on the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said that he would be working hard to obtain a hearing at the earliest opportunity. 

Stakeholder Support

Another factor in favor of sports betting is that most of the main stakeholders in any legalization are supportive of the move, which is testament to the work that Crighton has been doing on the issue since the Supreme Court decision to strike down the PASPA Act in May 2018. 

The state’s major league sports teams are all in favor, along with betting operators DraftKings, FanDuel, and MGM Springfield. 

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