Our Opinion: Sports wagering coming: You can bet on it

It wasn't that long ago that the concept of legalized sports betting in Massachusetts was all but inconceivable, but it wasn't that long ago that the arrival of casinos in the state was hard to imagine as well. The casinos are here and sports wagering is next, with Gov. Baker helping blaze the trail.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year allowing wagering on sports outside of Nevada has set off a race among the states to set up their own system, with Rhode Island taking the lead in New England by approving sports books at its casinos. The governor's proposal announced Thursday is modeled after those in other states, in particular New Jersey, but it differs in one significant way.

Under the governor's plan, Massachusetts would be the first state to allow companies to operate online sports wagering without a link to a casino. This appears to be a concession to Boston-based DraftKings, the fantasy sports giant that indicated after the Supreme Court decision that it is eager to get into the sports gambling business.

This surely concerns the Massachusetts casino industry, including MGM in Springfield. The governor's bill does allow casinos to build their own in-house sports books, as is the case in Rhode Island, and establish their own online betting games, as DraftKings will surely do. But unlike the other states the casinos will be sharing the market with an in-state rival. The House and Senate will likely come up with their own legislation that may not contain any precedent-setting planks, but deep-pocketed DraftKings is a legislative force on Beacon Hill.

The governor would put a 10 percent tax on sports wagering in casinos and a 12.5 percent tax on online bets. He predicts it will generate $35 million in the state's next fiscal year, with the proceeds to be targeted for local aid for cities and towns. With financially strapped municipalities desperate for more state revenue it will be extremely difficult for any legislator to oppose this initiative.

The concerns that the arrival of casinos in the state would lead to more gambling addiction and the resultant loss of homes and jobs will be magnified by the institution of sports gambling. Gamblers won't have to get in a car and go to a casino — they will be able to easily place bets on their smartphones or other devices. The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling responded to the governor's proposal Friday by advocating for the kind of safeguards in sports betting legislation that was included in the bill that legalized gambling in Massachusetts. This includes a minimum age of 21, the dedication of funds for problem gambling, and ongoing research on sports betting behavior and its ramifications.

The Eagle has always expressed skepticism that casinos will generate their projected revenue given the glut of casinos in the Northeast. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in southeastern Connecticut, concerned by a loss of revenue to MGM, want to team up on a northern Connecticut casino to compete with Springfield. This kind of cutthroat competition that hurts all will surely emerge in the sports wagering arena. It's arrival in Massachusetts is inevitable, and the best the state can do is come up with a strong bill that includes the safeguards recommended by the Council on Compulsive gambling, is realistic about the revenue to be generated, and assures it is targeted where the need is greatest.


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