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Massachusetts Sports Betting Remains Prohibited Despite Little Opposition

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Posted on: March 27, 2022, 10:32h. 

Last updated on: March 27, 2022, 06:28h.

Massachusetts sports betting remains illegal in the commonwealth, despite no state lawmakers publicly declaring their opposition to the expanded gaming.

Massachusetts sports betting Boston odds gambling
An illustration commemorates Boston’s rich sports history. Massachusetts residents remain prohibited from legally betting on their favorite team inside their home state. (Image: Yankee Magazine)

Many state lawmakers have been trying to legalize such gambling since the US Supreme Court struck down the federal law in May of 2018 that had limited full-fledged sports betting to Nevada. Almost four years later, Massachusetts residents still cannot legally place a sports wager in their home state.

The “Why” remains an unanswered question. The State House News Service reported last week that its informal survey among the 40-member Massachusetts Senate turned up zero elected officials who were willing to go on the record in stern opposition of regulating sports betting.

The government affairs media outlet said 24 Senators confirmed their support of passing a bill to legalize sports betting. A 60% majority — should those Senators uphold their public commitment — would be ample support to legalize sports betting.

The Senate has been in receipt of a House-passed sports betting bill since last July. But House Bill 3933 — An Act Regulating Sports Wagering — has sat dormant with the Senate Ways and Means Committee ever since. Reps. Daniel Cahill (D-Essex) and Steven Howitt (R-Bristol) are the primary cosponsors of the bipartisan legislation.

Impatience Escalating

Massachusetts House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed HB 3933 last summer by a vote of 156-3.

With Boston having one of the largest fanbases and richest sports histories in the entire country, the House says it’s time to allow those fans to bet legally on their beloved Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, and Bruins. And many Senators agree.

We’re leaving $30 million-$50 million a year on the table, maybe more. We’re being outpaced by other states,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) said of sports betting. “We’ve already made a decision years ago — decades ago — that we are going to sanction gaming in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Having made that decision, we need to be committed to doing it in the most prosperous way possible.”

Sports betting is legal and operational in New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. All four share a border with Massachusetts.

Senate President Pro Tempore Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont) took a softer approach in his support.

“I’m okay with sports betting in theory, but there are many unresolved questions about … how to set it up, how to regulate it, and how to share the revenue it generates,” he said.

Call for Action

State Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport) has been blamed for holding up HB 3933, as he chairs the Senate Ways and Means. Reached for comment by the State House News Service, the Democrat says he and the committee “are actively engaged in discussions and meetings with all the principals.”

Rodrigues further clarified that HB 3933 is a broad piece of legislation that leaves numerous complicated regulatory elements of authorizing sports betting up for debate.

As I have with all major legislation, I will work to listen to and incorporate Senators’ feedback and release a bill if and when it is ready and there is support of the members,” Rodrigues concluded.

HB 3933 isn’t entirely a shell bill, as it sets a 12.5% tax on sports betting revenue. It also specifies that the state’s three commercial casinos and two simulcasting facilities would qualify for land-based sportsbook privileges. The bill additionally includes mobile sportsbook opportunities.

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