Massachusetts Lawmakers renew push for legalized sports betting

BOSTON — More than three years after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed sports betting, Massachusetts is still trying to get a piece of the action.

On Thursday, the Legislature's Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies heard testimony on two dozen proposals to authorize sports wagering, and tax and regulate what is expected to be a multimillion-dollar industry.

"We must not wait any longer," Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, who filed one of the bills, told the committee. "This will create jobs, increase revenue, promote economic development, and recapture Massachusetts money that is moving across our borders."

Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, who has filed six bills to authorize sports wagering, said the state is losing out on revenue as residents bet on games in states that have legalized sport wagers, including Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

"We've been ridiculed by our friends up north because we haven't put this into place," he said.

Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, has refiled a measure authorizing sports betting at racetracks and casinos, and by mobile platforms such as DraftKings, while establishing a system to tax and regulate the industry.

His plan is similar to one he filed in the previous legislative session, which would allow wagering on out-of-state collegiate sports as well as pro sports. Betting on Massachusetts colleges would not be allowed.

"If our goal is to bring this industry out of the shadows, we must have a product that can compete with the illicit market," Crighton told the panel.

Under his plan, sports betting would be regulated by the state Gaming Commission, and operators would be taxed at 15% for retail and online sales. Operators would be required to pay an application fee of $10 million, while five-year gaming licenses would cost $1.25 million.

Crighton said "conservative estimates" suggest the plan would drum up more than $80 million in fees for the state before the first bets are even placed.

Lawmakers debated similar proposals in the previous legislative session, but those did not win approval.

Boston-based DraftKings, MGM Springfield casino and professional sports franchises such as the Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics are all angling for a piece of the market, if sports betting is legalized in Massachusetts.

The effort also received support from legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Baker, who filed his own proposal, which is also before the committee.

Baker's bill calls for authorizing sports wagering at state-regulated casinos and through websites such as DraftKings, but it would not allow betting on college sports.

Testifying in support of Baker's plan, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said authorizing sports betting would tamp down illegal bookmaking and help the state compete.

"We know that illegal sports betting is occurring every day on the black market," Kennealy said. "One of our primary goals is to transition sports betting activity from the illegal black market toward a more secure, regulated market."

Baker's proposal calls for a 10% tax on in-person wagers and 12% for online bets and daily fantasy sports contests. Levies would be based on a company's revenues after making any payouts.

It's not clear how much legalizing sports betting would generate for the state, but estimates range from $28 million to $85 million a year.

In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a law barring sports gambling in nearly all states except Nevada. The case involved New Jersey, which fought for years to allow sports gambling at casinos and racetracks.

Since then, at least 25 states and Washington, D.C., have passed sports waging laws.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.