Legalized sports betting in Massachusetts will have to wait until the next year as COVID-19 seems to win the year 2020 legislative agenda. Amid the ongoing pandemic, House Bill 4559 was pushed to the backburner as the country finds ways to battle the second wave of the virus.
Sen. Michael Brady said that if sports betting doesn’t find its way back into this year’s economic development bill, it should be coming along with the budget that will be worked on early next year. He added that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about passing sports betting by 2021.
While speaking to the media, Brady said, “I’m a staunch supporter of it, many people I’m speaking to are in support of this. I believe we’ve got to get moving on it whether it happens this or next year.”
The Bay State is already behind in sports betting legalization compared to neighboring states like Rhode Island, and Vermont has regulated the lucrative industry. Massachusetts residents can head to either state to place wagers, causing the state revenue loss for not legalizing a highly potent market.
According to analysts, Massachusetts could draw $30 to $50 million from a regulated sports betting market once it matures. The state was on the road to legalization until it went off track due to unavoidable distractions. Now, the residents will have to wait for 2021 to place legal wagers in Massachusetts.
How Did Things Come to This?
A sports betting bill was making progress in the Massachusetts legislature before the coronavirus broke out in the country in March. Suddenly, everything was pushed aside to instead focus on an economic development bill that aimed at stimulating the local economy.
In July, the House approved its version of the economic development bill, which included sports betting as part of it. The bill even authorized seven online sports betting licenses, charging taxes revenue at 15% and a five-year license fee of $250,000.
However, the Senate voted against it, stating that trying to regulate sports betting bill along with an economic stimulus bill was not a great idea. Although the state Senate supports the sports betting bill, they feels that the industry ought to have an independent bill instead of being tailed with another bill.
Like many states, Massachusetts is cash-starved and faces a budget deficit due to the months following and defined by the pandemic. According to Sen. Michael Brady, the state has a $5 billion deficit on its hands and requires money as soon as possible.
Sports betting could be that instant boost to draw revenue if a bill is hurriedly passed. The state residents are going to neighboring states to bet on sports when they could stay in their own state, had it regulated the industry. It would potentially benefit the state and its residents. Unfortunately, the remaining sessions in the legislature will not be discussing sports betting for the remainder of this year.
Lobbying for College Sports Betting in Massachusetts
When sports betting does launch in Massachusetts, it is still unclear as to whether residents will be able to wager on college sports.
Recently, the American Gaming Association (AGA) sought to persuade the Massachusetts legislature to consider the inclusion of betting college sports in the sports betting bill. In response to a letter from the representatives of eight Massachusetts schools seeking a ban on college betting in the state, a senior AGA official said the best way to protect college athletes is with a regulated sports betting industry that includes college betting.
Christopher Cylke, Senior VP of Government Relations, said, “Allowing legal and regulated betting on collegiate events strengthens the integrity of games, besides protecting bettors, competitions, and the athletes… Only in a regulated market do law enforcement have insight into betting patterns and activity that may help them identify trends that, in turn, help identify unlawful tampering with games and athletes.”
Whether the Bay State goes with the college sports betting or not, it remains to be seen. In any case, Massachusetts will be legalizing sports betting. Several states have prohibited betting on local college sports, so it would not be unprecedented if Massachusetts regulate sports betting without including local college sports. Only time will tell.