Editorial: Massachusetts must be prudent on sports betting

  • In this May 14 photo, people make bets in the sports book at the South Point hotel and casino in Las Vegas. The U.S. Supreme Court on May 14 cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting.  AP FILE PHOTO

Published: 5/22/2018 9:08:24 PM

We concur with two Hampshire County legislators who urged the state to be prudent before legalizing sports betting. Though the U.S. Supreme Court last week gave states that option, it should not be on the fast track in Massachusetts.

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, told the Gazette, “I think the Legislature will approach this kind of carefully. It’s nothing that will be rushed into. Legislators will want to have a clear understanding what the risks and benefits are of legalizing sports betting in the state. What are the revenues that will be coming into the commonwealth that would help support spending in the state budget? What would be the potential downside for the state lottery, which is a major source of local aid for cities and towns, and would there be any negative impact on that?

“I think it’s going to take some very careful research and deliberation that probably won’t happen any sooner than the next session of the Legislature beginning next January,” Kulik added. “I can’t imagine we rush into anything now in the remaining weeks of the current general session” that ends July 31.

Solomon Goldstein-Rose, of Amherst, who is unenrolled, said, “I think it’s something the Legislature is going to look at. I know the (House) speaker, the Senate president and the governor have all said it’s something they’re interested in and, in Massachusetts Legislature-style, want to move very slowly and deliberately on.”

He echoed comments made by those top state officials soon after the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling May 14 that struck down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. While betting at horse racing tracks is widely available, until last week’s ruling Nevada was the only state where gambling on all sports was legal.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said that while he discussed sports betting last week with the Democratic leaders of the Legislature, the state must do a lot more “homework” before making a decision, including assessing the potential impact on the first two resort casinos in Massachusetts, which are scheduled to open Aug. 24 in Springfield and next year in Everett.

The best approach is to establish a special commission to complete a comprehensive study of sports betting in Massachusetts. That was called for in a bill filed earlier this year that has yet to make it out of committee. We urge the Legislature during the remaining months of this session to establish that panel so it can produce recommendations for consideration early in 2019.

The state should resist moving more quickly even if adjoining states such as Connecticut and Rhode Island are further ahead in legalizing sports betting. Prudence is more important than the loss of immediate revenue because there are so many variables to consider — including whether to allow betting at casinos, horse racing tracks, off-track parlors or stadiums, as well as the possibility of online wagering.

New Jersey, Delaware and Mississippi are expected to be the first new states to accept legal sports bets in the coming weeks.

“I think we want to be very judicious in how we approach this. I think watching New Jersey would be very smart,” Kulik said. “There’s X amount of dollars that people want to spend on various forms of gambling. Where is it going to be spent and how can states use that as an economic development impetus and an activity that employs people and creates jobs and also creates revenue for state and local government? You need those kinds of studies.”

Also needed is assurance that the state would add revenue from legal sports betting to the Public Health Trust Fund established under the 2011 state law permitting up to three resort casinos and one slot parlor in Massachusetts. That fund is designed to “mitigate the harms associated with gambling … focusing on research, prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery support services to help mitigate the effects of problem gambling and related issues.”

That is critical because the Supreme Court ruling “will likely increase gambling participation and gambling problems unless steps are taken to minimize harm,” according to Marlene Warner, president of the board of directors for the National Council on Problem Gambling.

A thoughtful approach on sports gambling is needed in Massachusetts. Otherwise, it’s a bad bet.


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