A Massachusetts proposal to legalize sports betting, which was left out of a recent bill, a should see a renewed push this year, state lawmakers say.
House members had included legal sports betting in their version of an economic development bill. They claimed the proposal, which has been estimated to bring in $20 million to $35 million of annual revenue, served as a logical step to make up for tax dollars Massachusetts has lost during the pandemic-induced recession.
Senators, however, nixed sports betting in their bill. It’s unclear how many individual senators support legal sports betting, but most wanted the development bill to focus on immediate relief to those most impacted by the pandemic.
While representatives portrayed new revenue as an urgent need, senators opted to wait for a future standalone bill, which would give more possibility to debate details and implementation for sports betting.
“A lot of reps were bothered” by the Senate’s decision, said Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, who called sports betting “a no brainer to the House.”
Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, led the Senate’s conference committee negotiations on the bill, and he said the bill’s focus was to provide relief to “families, small businesses and communities.” But he told The Eagle he “would personally like to see legislation move forward in this new session now that we have time to focus on it.”
When the Senate rejected a sports betting amendment in July’s debate on the bill, Lesser said sports betting “does pose great promise … when properly implemented and when done right.” Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, added that “the time is close, and we are going to be tackling this issue.”
Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, floated the state budget as “a possible vehicle” for taking up sports betting, among other revenue proposals.
“I do expect it to be an ongoing conversation and one of the early issues addressed in this term,” said Hinds, who chairs the Senate revenue working group. “There has been a bit of a back and forth on that, so I feel like it’s getting close.”
The Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that a federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada was unconstitutional.
Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said that ruling “set off this race to compete amongst the states to get in on a potential new revenue source.”
But since neighboring states are making money from Massachusetts residents, he said, legalization in Massachusetts “makes sense.”
“We need to do it in a manner that protects the integrity of the sporting competitions while also offering addiction services and reducing opportunities for abuse,” Mark said.
Nearby states Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York have legalized sports betting.
Massachusetts residents have previously shown a desire to bet on sports, having spent $680 million on “offshore” sports betting in 2016.
Some representatives expressed surprise that the final economic development bill, negotiated by three members of each branch, left sports betting out.
“It’s too bad when we leave revenue on the table like that [because] we’re so desperate for revenue,” said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.
House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, had told The State House News Service, “If I could [make a deal], we’d have a deal.”
Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, noted “a real disconnect” between the branches over what he sees as “a natural thing for economic development.”
“I just go back to DraftKings, a growing, profitable business in Massachusetts that cannot conduct business in Massachusetts,” Pignatelli said. “I think it’s foolish … and that’s coming from a guy who opposed casino gambling.”