Massachusetts Legislature Finishing Year Without Sportsbook Bill

The Massachusetts Legislature appears likely to end the year without adopting a bill that would legalize sports betting in the Bay State.

Nevertheless, a group of sports teams and gaming operators are calling on legislators to create a legal sports betting market as a way to stimulate the economy.

They include the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, New England Revolution, DraftKings, MGM Springfield, FanDuel and the PGA Tour, who sent a joint letter to the legislators negotiating on a jobs bill.

The letter declared, “Passing sports betting will protect and create jobs here in Massachusetts at a time when many companies have been forced to shrink their workforce. Massachusetts has already lost jobs that could have been housed here by not acting sooner on sports betting.” They claim the state could take in as much as $50 million annually in taxes. Lawmakers claim smaller numbers: $20 million. Governor Charlie Baker puts the figure in the middle, at $35 million.

They continued, “A legalized sports betting framework would not only allow us to preserve jobs, we fully anticipate that DraftKings, MGM and others will be creating additional jobs in Boston, Springfield and other regional hubs. Conversely, if sports betting is not passed, we anticipate that additional jobs will be lost and others still will be housed in states other than Massachusetts.”

They added, “To use a sports analogy, Massachusetts is collectively keeping our bat on our shoulder in the competition for additional jobs in the innovation economy.”

The Senate and House disagree on whether the jobs bill should include sports betting in the $46 billion 2021 budget. The Senate bill doesn’t have it. The House bill does. The House bill, passed 156-3, would allow DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook and two other providers.

Penn National and Wynn Resorts opposes this, arguing that the casinos have invested in Massachusetts and should be allowed to control any expansion of gaming.

Soon representatives of both chambers will meet in a conference committee to iron out the differences.

Senator Bruce Tarr, the Senate minority leader, had submitted an amendment to the economic development bill, as he did several months ago. His bill would allow retail and online sportsbook. His bill was rejected without a roll call vote.

However, Senate President Karen Spilka told reporters, “Right now, the focus is going to be on conference committees, resolving the budget, and COVID. We’ll see though.”

Senator Eric Lesser, the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and one of the conferees on the jobs bills committee, explained why: “This specific bill on this specific day, which we pointed out earlier in our session when debate began is about an emergency response economically to the coronavirus depression that we find ourselves in. At this specific moment, we need to hold.”

David Friedman, senior vice president of legal and government affairs for the Red Sox, said he thinks a sports betting bill is still possible this year. He told the Republican: “I think the leaders we have today in the House and Senate have proven their ability to tackle a lot of major issues and take steps that help the Massachusetts economy, and I have faith that these leaders are smart and talented enough and focused enough to get this done. We hope that they do.”

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