Massachusetts lawmakers concluded on Wednesday, January a $627 million bill that includes everything except for sports betting legalization. In the economic development bill, which included housing production incentives, vocational school funding, small business grants, some lawmakers said they did not want to supplement complicated sports betting proposal in it. The negotiators also scrapped plans to have the Gaming Commission consider the circumstances around the sole casino license left unissued in the Bay State.
The bill was advanced through the House and Senate overnight, as lawmakers kept on extending the end of the session using COVID-19-era emergency rules. The bill, which is lying on the governor’s desk, has ten days to see its eventual fate, depending on whether or not Gov. Charlie Baker chooses to sign it.
Massachusetts Sports Betting Was Highly Anticipated, But…
Sports betting evidently became a priority in the US, including Massachusetts, amid the economic crisis that has gripped the country following March 2020 as a way to bring extra revenue to the state. Once the standalone bill on sports betting stalled in the legislature, the House attached the sports betting proposal to the jobs bill in July, but Senate Eric Lesser didn’t agree.
Senate Eric Lesser, a Democrat and a key negotiator on the economic development bill, said the bill was about COVID relief and to support all those families and businesses affected by the pandemic-led recession. He argued that at the time, they preferred not to attach the complicated sports betting proposal in a comprehensive economic development bill. More than five months later, Senate’s inclination to keep Massachusetts sports betting in a hanging position won out in negotiations.
While expressing his amazement at the state’s reluctance, industry analyst Chris Grove said it is surprising to see Massachusetts’s inability to get sports betting passed into law because there are many stakeholders who want to get this done. “On the other hand, a lot of those stakeholders do have contrasting visions for what sports betting would look like.” Grove, who is also a partner at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, added that getting hose visions aligned is a process that may prolong indefinitely, depending on how hard every stakeholder wants to dig in.
What is the Obstacle?
Massachusetts lawmakers and Gov. Baker have been pushing for regulated sports betting in the Bay State since the US Supreme Court scrapped PASPA in May 2018. Lawmakers have estimated sports betting could draw nearly $25 million a year, while the governor projected $35 million in state tax revenue in his budget proposal for the fiscal year 2021.
However, gambling opponents argue that sportsbooks would profit at the expense of the working-class, which has made the proposal controversial among some lawmakers. While the sports betting proposal was inching toward the legalization process, lawmakers divided over whether the bill ought to prioritize casino owners licensed for gaming in Massachusetts, mobile sportsbook operators, pro-sports teams, or a combination of the three. The biggest obstacle for launching Massachusetts legal sports betting was not the opposition to the industry as much as rift over should participate.
Who Are the Stakeholders?
There are potential stakeholders who want to capitalize on the lucrative sports betting industry once it is live in the Bay State. Each of them wants a leadership role. Casino operators supported a regulated market that caters to existing gaming license holders, in other words, casino owners. Mobile sports betting companies, particularly DraftKings, sought to capitalize on an emerging market, while professional sports leagues and teams vied for access to licenses through partnerships with the digital companies. Meanwhile, keno operators in the state reprimanded lawmakers for ignoring them in the process altogether.
“You have competing visions around who gets to offer sports betting…that’s the largest point of divergence around stakeholders,” Grove said. “Honestly, this is not terribly surprising in so much that states that have legalized sports betting to date have taken very different approaches to this question.”
When Can We Expect Legalized Sports Betting in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts is poised to get an independent sports betting bill in the foreseeable future. When exactly it can happen, it is difficult to predict. Still, the developments in other states will keep the lawmakers pushing to hasten the process. Many states with regulated sports betting have been managing to bridge their budget shortfall with the lucrative sports betting revenue.
Massachusetts is facing identical economic constraints, with lawmakers looking to finalize a legalized sports betting draft and an eager governor to sign it into law. So, hopefully, 2021 should be the lucky year for Massachusetts sports betting fans.