In the wake of another sports betting proposal that came up short in the Senate, all five major league professional sports teams in Massachusetts, gaming companies, and a powerful labor union last week upped the pressure on the Legislature to legalize sports betting before the end of the year.
Beacon Hill has been thinking about legalizing sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the nearly-nationwide prohibition on the activity was unconstitutional, but the House and Senate have not seen eye-to-eye on the issue. While the House approved a sports betting framework in its July jobs bill, the Senate rejected sports betting amendments to its jobs bill and, most recently, its budget.
“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 Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, New England Revolution, Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics, DraftKings, MGM Springfield, FanDuel, and the PGA Tour wrote in a letter to lawmakers Friday attempting to impart the importance of legalizing sports betting in the time that remains until this session ends in early January.
The coalition said its members are “deeply concerned at the prospect of legislation not being passed this session” because “such an outcome would be detrimental to our businesses, to consumers, and to our Commonwealth, all while providing a major win for illegal, offshore sports betting companies.”
The group said it estimates that Massachusetts could pull in about $50 million a year from sports betting, though Gov. Charlie Baker has previously estimated annual revenue of $35 million and the House estimated revenue of about $20 million, though there has been no agreement on a tax rate or structure for wagers.
“Massachusetts has already lost jobs that could have been housed here by not acting sooner on sports betting. As other states legalized and launched sports betting, DraftKings has had to locate certain jobs outside of Massachusetts. The COVID pandemic also has hit our casinos hard, and MGM-Springfield has had to layoff and furlough hundreds of workers in Western Massachusetts,” the teams and companies wrote. “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.”
Last week, IBEW Local 103 Business Manager and Financial Secretary Lou Antonellis sent a letter to the six lawmakers who since July have been trying to rectify differences between House and Senate economic development bills, including a sports betting provision, urging them to keep in mind the simulcast center at Suffolk Downs, where 55 IBEW Local 103 members work.
“We believe that [Sterling Suffolk Racecourse] deserves the same sports betting rights as other licensed gaming entities in the state. Wagering on horse racing, a form of sports betting has taken place on the premises since 1935,” Antonellis wrote. “On the issue of on-line sports betting, SSR has considerable experience, having processed more than $100 million in legal, on-line wagering on horse racing each of the last three years via its advanced-deposit wagering platforms under the regulation and oversight of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.”
While MGM Springfield is partnering with some of the region’s pro teams to make the case for sports betting, Plainridge Park Casino and Encore Boston Harbor two weeks ago sent a joint letter pushing lawmakers to essentially allow the state’s casinos to control the majority of the sports betting market here, if wagering is made legal.
The details of a possible sports betting law, like whether the simulcast center at Suffolk Downs could get in on the action or whether online operators would have to have a partnership with an in-state casino, remain unclear.
After the Senate rejected a sports betting amendment to its budget last Wednesday night, Senate President Karen Spilka was non-committal when asked if there was a chance the Senate would take sports betting back up before the session ends in early January.
“Right now, the focus is going to be on conference committees, resolving the budget, and COVID. We’ll see though,” she said.
During the debate on the amendment, which was sponsored by Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, senators from both parties said they were concerned that Massachusetts is missing out on revenue it could use to address budget gaps in future fiscal years.
“If we don’t do it in this bill, we should absolutely get to work before we end this year to make sure this is done,” Sen. Marc Pacheco said. “I am very concerned that we are going to be missing the boat on this.”
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