State eyes future of sports wagering

  • FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2019, file photo, patrons visit the sports betting area of Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I. Most of the states that moved quickly to legalize sports betting after a Supreme Court decision last year are still waiting for the payoff. Some of those states, like Rhode Island, may have to adjust their budgets to account for lower-than-projected tax revenue. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) Steven Senne

For the Gazette
Published: 4/7/2019 11:38:05 PM

BOSTON — Massachusetts sports teams have long made headlines for challenging the rules. While “legal sports wagering” doesn’t have the same ring as “Deflategate,” the home of the nation’s defending World Series and Super Bowl champions is aiming to be the first legal sports betting state with online wagering unaffiliated with existing casinos.

In May 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey and overturned the Professional Amateur Protection Act, allowing for state-based legalization of sports gambling. So far, Rhode Island is the only New England state to act, with Massachusetts edging close behind in the legislative process.

Gov. Charlie Baker proposed a bill in January which would allow sports fans to wager on professional games at both casinos and online on their smartphones. Massachusetts currently has one active casino, MGM-Springfield, and a slots parlor in Plainville. A second casino, Encore-Boston Harbor, is slated to open in Everett in June, pending approval by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

In the proposal, Baker says legalization would generate $35 million in revenue in fiscal 2020 to benefit local aid for all Massachusetts communities. Bets placed at sports books would be taxed at a rate of 10 percent, while online sports wagering would be taxed at a 12.5 percent rate.

“Expanding Massachusetts’ developing gaming industry to include wagering on professional sports is an opportunity for Massachusetts to invest in local aid while remaining competitive with many other states pursuing similar regulations,” Baker said in a statement. “Our legislation puts forth a series of common-sense proposals to ensure potential licensees are thoroughly vetted and safeguards are in place to protect against problem gambling and illegal activity.”

Under the legislation, wagering would be regulated to allow those 21 and older to place bets on major league sports teams. Betting on college and high school sports, E-sports, and amateur sports is prohibited, and coaches, athletes, referees, and other sports employees would also be banned from wagering.

The restrictions are in keeping with the fact the NCAA “opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community.”

Online gambling without casino affiliation gives independent fantasy sports providers such as Boston-based DraftKings the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Baker’s initiative makes all the sense in the world for us,” James Chisholm, the director for global public affairs at DraftKings, said in an interview. “Whether you like it or not, there’s already sports betting going on in Massachusetts, just illegally. Legalizing sports wagering would generate revenue, keep people safe, and create opportunities for the 600-plus employees here at DraftKings.”

DraftKings made their biggest Boston splash yet on March 25 with the unveiling of their brand new Back Bay headquarters, modeled to look like a football field.

“The legalization of sports gambling is making history and revolutionizing the way people view their favorite sports teams,” said Chisholm.

As another sign of interest, the New England Sports Network, owned by the Fenway Sports Group which holds the rights to Red Sox and Bruins telecasts, began carrying a sports-betting show from Vegas States & Information Network on March 18 called “Follow the Money.” The show will air five days a week on NESN’s 7 to 10 a.m. weekday timeslot.

“Sports-wagering regulations are changing quickly and with these changes we anticipate an increased interest in obtaining relevant and reliable sports information,” said Rick Jaffe, NESN’s vice president of programming and production in a press release. “VSiN has both the experience and expertise to deliver the most up-to-date gaming data and analytics to New England’s sports fans.”

Not everyone is happy with the recent advancements. The Massachusetts Lottery, which remains a cash-only and in-person business, has recently argued if sports wagering comes online, the lottery should too.

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose office oversees the Lottery, spoke in front of legislators earlier this month, arguing that moving the state lottery online would attract new customers and foster revenue for local aid.

“This is an operating company that needs to modernize, and what we are seeing across the world is a cannibalization of sales and the disruption caused for bricks-and-mortar companies by the internet,” Goldberg told members of the House and Senate Ways and Means committees.

“And particularly, there are only so many entertainment dollars in total, so Lottery for a very long time was a predictable, terrific business, but it had no competition.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Lottery director Michael Sweeney.

“As the discussion continues about sports betting and the prospect of an online or mobile component to it, we see this as an opportunity to examine the Lottery and other existing forms of gaming in the state and establish regulations that provide a level playing field,” he said. “It is also important that all forms of gaming in the state are held to similar standards in terms of integrity, transparency, and responsible play.”

The Massachusetts Lottery currently supports 351 cities and towns with millions of dollars of unrestricted local aid, according to its website. In FY 2017, lottery net profit across the commonwealth reached $1.039 billion. Examples of how funds are allocated include local road improvements, programs for seniors, and parks and recreation projects.

Baker’s bill is currently awaiting a hearing before the Legislature’s Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

Kalina Newman writes for the Gazette from the Boston University Statehouse Program.




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