Sports betting in Massachusetts was close to legalization last year but eventually was left out of an economic development bill.
Sen. Brendan Crighton, who’s fought to legalize MA sports betting for years, thinks this year will be different.
“We’ve modified our bill over the past few years but we’re pretty confident in the product we have now,” Crighton said.
There’s a much larger need for state revenue than in the past because of the coronavirus pandemic, he said. Combined with pressure from legal markets in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and possible legalization in Connecticut this year, it could rally enough people to pass sports betting this year.
“Sports betting in Massachusetts isn’t new – it’s alive and well and has been for quite some time,” Crighton said. “… I think it’s time for a change and I do believe we’re headed in that direction.”
New Massachusetts sports betting bill details
Crighton could file this year’s legislation as early as next week but broke down some of the biggest changes for LSR:
- The most significant change is the application fee, which is now $10 million, up from $1 million last year. With casinos and horse tracks eligible to offer sports betting that could bring in $70 million in revenue for the state before a bet is even placed, he said.
- Sports betting revenue will be taxed at 15% for both online and retail. The rate will produce good revenue for the state but isn’t so high that regulated operators won’t be able to compete with offshore books, Crighton said.
- Crighton’s bill bans betting on any events that include collegiate teams from Massachusetts, but that’s an upgrade from Gov. Charlie Baker‘s proposed bill last year that banned all college betting.
Crighton’s bill does not address how many skins a casino or racetrack could license to sportsbooks. He doesn’t expect many other changes.
“I am interested in hearing other folks’ perception on it but I feel like our model is pretty straightforward,” Crighton said.
Not promising MA sports betting in 2021
Crighton stopped short of guaranteeing legal sports betting this year but there’s much less work to be done from an education standpoint in the legislature than before.
“Conversations have been happening throughout the fall and throughout the year on this bill,” he said. “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.
“So, unlike last session, I think everyone is aware of this as a concept and recognizes that it will be up for discussion pretty early.”
Just how early is unclear. Massachusetts’ 2020 session just ended Wednesday morning when negotiations finally ended on the state’s economic development bill.
That means it could take some time for committee structures and other logistical processes to fall into place. But Crighton, the Senate VP of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, will work to get a hearing as soon as possible.
Stakeholders appear to be on board
Crighton started working on legalizing sports betting in the Bay State right around the time PASPA fell in May 2018.
Since then, he’s been in contact with all stakeholders concerning his legislation and doesn’t see any deal-breakers in this year’s bill.
“I don’t see major objections from any of the stakeholders,” Crighton said. “They may not want every part of it but I think it achieves a balance that is necessary to move forward.”
One clear proponent of legal sports betting is the state’s major league sports teams. The Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, Revolution and Red Sox all co-signed a letter to the Economic Development Conference Committee in November to show support for sports betting.
Boston-based DraftKings, FanDuel, and MGM Springfield also signed the letter.
Senate delayed sports betting last time
Sports betting didn’t make it into the economic development bill, but that wasn’t a unanimous choice.
The House’s original version of the economic bill included sports betting and passed 156-3 over the summer. That bill would have allowed seven licenses:
- One each for the state’s three casinos.
- One each for DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook.
- Two other licenses for sportsbooks active in two or more states for more than a year.
Senate leadership instead decided against including sports betting in the bill in favor of a standalone bill this session.