Ball Finally Rolling As MA Sports Betting Hearing Starts Tedious Process

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MA sports betting

After more than five hours of testimony, the MA sports betting discussion is exactly where it was before the hearing started.

Plenty of interested parties testified at the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Thursday afternoon. That included casino operators, sportsbook operators, simulcast facilities, and sports team/league representatives.

But by now, there are really no surprises on where these entities land on sports betting in Massachusetts since the conversation is the same across state borders.

Proponents want to see MA sports betting legalized as soon as possible, but things remain a bit messy for now. There are more than 20 sports betting bills filed in the legislature. Those need to be whittled down into one omnibus bill.

The good news for hopeful Massachusetts sports bettors is there seems to be an understanding that legalizing sports betting is more about when, not if, a bill is passed this year.

How quickly could MA sports betting start?

The timeline to launch sports betting in Massachusetts will depend on the legislation, Massachusetts Gaming Commission Executive Director Karen Wells said. That said, she knows there’s a strong public interest to get betting launched and get tax dollars flowing.

DraftKings Sportsbook CEO Jason Robins said it would only take weeks for his company to get the tech up and running in the state.

Massachusetts’ legislative session runs through the end of the year, so there is no hard deadline on when a bill could be finished.

MA sports betting will keep tax dollars in state

Jennifer Thompson, a town administrator for Plainville, and Rep. Bradford Hill told the same story from opposite ends of the state.

Thompson and Hill painted the picture of mom-and-pop businesses being skipped by sports bettors. Plainville, home of Penn National‘s Plainridge Park, sits near the border to Rhode Island. Hill’s district is near the New Hampshire border.

Those border communities are already suffering because of the covid pandemic and need legal online sports betting to keep people in those communities supporting the local businesses, Thompson said.

Robins emphasized that point later in the hearing. A “significant” number of bets in New Hampshire, where DraftKings has an online monopoly, come from Massachusetts residents, he said.

That thee Bay State is surrounded by legal sports betting is driving the conversation at this point. Along with New Hampshire and Rhode Island, sports betting in Connecticut is coming this fall. Mobile sports betting in New York should follow soon by early 2022..

Should kiosks be allowed?

There was a lot of discussion over whether kiosks should be permitted at local businesses.

Local business owners and legislators concerned with small-business health called for sports betting kiosks. Those arguments stemmed from perceived differences in liquor laws and a lack of a legal retail option for anyone that does not want to bet online aside from the three casinos.

“How much more can you do to hurt us?” restaurant owner Billy Stetson asked the committee.

Rep. Andres Vargas said there should be no reason someone can buy a keno ticket or $25 instant ticket but not put $25 on the Boston Celtics at the same place.

Casinos only or others?

No surprise here either: casino operators want sports betting in MA to run through the casinos. Everyone else, meanwhile, wants a level playing field.

Penn National VP of Public Affairs Jeff Morris presented Penn’s well-worn talking point for tethering sports betting licenses to the casinos. This has been the company’s stance over at least the last two years.

It is unclear if Morris’ testimony will lead to a tethered-market controlled by the casinos or not. It definitely got through in Maine, which changed its sports betting proposal at the final hour to reflect PENN’s requests.

MGM ready for customers from MA sports betting

MGM Resorts, which operates MGM Springfield just a few miles from the Connecticut border, needs sports betting, said Ayesha Molino, the company’s VP of government affairs.

The casino operator already set aside millions of dollars for a Las Vegas-style sportsbook. The casino would see more than 20,000 additional customers during football season alone from sports betting, she added.

Stetson fired back, doubling down on his call for kiosks by asking where those customers are coming from.