Progress Slows for Massachusetts Sports Wagering Over Legislative Differences

Massachusetts Sports Wagering

  • Internal legislative disputes have stalled progress for Gov. Baker’s plan to move forward
  • Many prefer study & research of sports wagering in other states before progressing
  • Sen. Eldridge questions sports wagering online model vs. casino gambling structure

Several headlines have offered promising results this week issuing progress for sports bettors looking forward to placing a bet in New England states.

Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and New York have confirmed legalized sports wagering with New York more seriously discussing options for mobile betting in the state. Vermont has announced its intentions going forward while Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is negotiating with the state’s two largest Native American tribes to firm details to begin 2021 operating plans.

Unfortunately, while Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) openly and enthusiastically supports expanding gambling and sports wagering, several lawmakers in the Boston capital continue to delay its arrival.

Many prefer a slower process, learning from research conducted in mature gambling markets like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and take the time to ensure that as many of the unknowns around sports betting are quite carefully addressed before any movement on a bill should move forward.

As a sample of the sentiment, Marlene Warner, Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health Executive Director offered these opinions:

I don’t think it’s a surprise that sports wagering is garnering as much interest and excitement as it is in the Legislature given what’s happening nationally and, in the region, but we continue to want Massachusetts to do it right. We took a while and we took our time to implement placing casinos here in Massachusetts, so I think sports wagering should be no different. We really want to make sure all the public health elements are contained in whatever bill moves forward.

Warner’s organization takes a neutral stance on sports betting but is urging lawmakers to provide ample attention to responsible gambling measures and programs as they did prior to passing the 2011 expanded gaming law, which she said, “went well beyond what any other state had ever implemented or proposed.”

Sen. Eldridge has Concerns for Sports Wagering Bill

While a group of legislators has taken either a “gray or neutral” attitude toward gambling expansion in Massachusetts and the opportunity to welcome sports betting, Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Middlesex) has expressed open concerns.

Sen. Eldridge, who was part of a group in 2009 who opposed casino gaming and again is drawing on experiences around the 2011 expanded gaming law as he considers this further expansion of gambling for Massachusetts. He acknowledged he is not totally opposed to sports betting but is worried about linking it directly to casino gambling.

The House approved sports betting during their last session while Gov. Charlie Baker, Sen. Eric Lesser, Chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies for the Senate, and almost a dozen other legislators have put forward proposals they hope will get attention early this session. The proposals offer various degrees and forms of consumer and public health protections.

Eldridge said he has been thinking of sports betting as mostly an online/mobile activity, and allowing casinos, a slots parlor, racetracks, and simulcast centers to accept bets as Lesser’s bill and others propose would further promote casino gambling.

In further clarifying his position regarding Lesser’s proposed bill Eldridge he went on to explain:

He said he understands the concerns around the 24/7 nature of mobile betting, but that’s not an atmosphere where everything is designed to keep you there spending more money and that’s where my concern is. People being drawn into the casinos and then spending more money than they expected at all the different places to spend money in a casino.

Immediate Outlook for Massachusetts Sports Wagering

With DraftKings Sportsbook headquarters sitting directly in Boston, Massachusetts this is a frustration for the company and all sports bettors waiting to participate using their services plus other top sportsbook operators planning to be licensed.

All decisions begin and end with Gov. Baker’s signature, but he will have to obtain unified support through this group of important legislators to keep the momentum going.

Lesser, who will play a pivotal role in advancing any version of sports betting legislation this session and has been promoting his bill on the subject. He said Tuesday that he is not a gambler either but believes this is an important financial objective for the state.

It appears Massachusetts will be among the group of New England states to have legalized sports wagering but until these doubts are resolved could be among the last.

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Larry Gibbs

Expert on Sports Betting Industry

Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.

Email: [email protected]