Massachusetts Sports Betting Not A Sure Thing

Massachusetts should have little trouble passing sports betting legislation. Yet a bill with positive support in 2019—with backing from the Governor—went nowhere. Same thing in 2020.

As for 2021, well Massachusetts lawmakers agreed to a $627 million economic development deal January 5, at the end of a legislative session.

Among other elements, the bill features grants to small businesses, a change in zoning laws to minimize obstructions to housing development, and funding for tourism and restaurant businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. But no sports betting.

Senator Eric Lesser sees a sports betting bill getting completed in the next session which began January 6. But he wants a standalone law.


“I do think you’ll see a process on sports betting move forward, but in this bill the focus needed to be on getting relief to people” impacted by the Covid-19 recession, Lesser said.

After gambling opponents nixed sports betting two years ago, a coalition of casinos, sportsbook operators and pro teams rallied for legislation which could raise $20 million to $35 million a year in revenues to help deal with the Covid-19 pandemic fueled recession. In addition to the tax revenues, money is available from licensing fees.

Alas, while some lawmakers came on board, their numbers weren’t enough to pass in 2020.

“Now in the pandemic…sports betting that is dominated by the three established gaming facilities is more palatable to the legislature to help the casinos survive and to try to revive gaming revenue to the state and host communities,” consultant Tony Cignoli told MassLive.

Gaming analysts said one obstacle to a deal involved the number of licenses.

“While some stakeholders want to focus solely on those that have access either because they’re an existing licensee or a fantasy sports operator, others would like to see a more robust, competitive market,” said Brendan Bussmann, a gaming industry analyst partner at Global Market Advisers.

Another obstacle is the continued opposition to any kind of gambling.

Is the money from taxes significant enough to make a difference in the deficit? Probably not. And opponents say sports betting attracts people addicted to gambling.

“There’s nothing industrious about taking people’s money for nothing in return. They promote false promises. They never pay back what they say that they will,” said Celeste Myers, a sports betting opponent who led the campaign against an East Boston casino in 2012.

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