Is state primed for sports betting? 

WHEN THE MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE held a two-day hearing on sports betting legislation in 2019, the games had only been legal nationwide for about a year, and fewer than a dozen states were allowing sports betting.

As the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted life and legislative business for most of 2020, sports betting remained on the sidelines and never made it into law last legislative session.

The Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies is holding another hearing on sports betting this Thursday, with 19 bills under consideration. These include a bill by Gov. Charlie Baker, who supports allowing sports betting, and another one by the co-chair of the committee, Sen. Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat.

The biggest difference in the debate this time around is the national context. At least 31 states have now authorized sports betting, and others have bills at various stages of consideration. States that have legalized sports betting include nearly all of Massachusetts’ neighbors: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.

That provides a competitive reason for Massachusetts to allow sports betting, since residents can always drive across the border. It also gives Massachusetts a chance to learn from other states.

“More time has gone by where you can see what’s worked in other states and compare the different states to each other,” Lesser said in an interview.

Lesser said three years ago, when the Supreme Court overturned a ban on sports betting and local lawmakers first started talking about the issue, sports betting was brand new. Now, Lesser said, “I believe we’ve seen from other states that it can be done safely, and it can be done in a way that protects the integrity of sports.”

Lesser added that there was also in the past more disagreement among the players’ leagues and among various operators about how sports betting should work and how it should be implemented. Now, there is a bit more consensus as more states are legalizing it and the sector has stabilized.

From a legislative perspective, lawmakers already worked through some of their concerns last session, when the House passed sports betting as part of its version of an economic development bill. But Lesser noted that with the new legislative session, all proposals will be on the table again.

One interesting wrinkle to the debate was raised at a hearing on racial equity Monday, when Springfield Rep. Orlando Ramos, a Democrat, advocated for his own sports betting proposal, which would let bars and restaurants host games, rather than just casinos and digital apps. Ramos said that is the only way for business owners of color to benefit from the industry. 

There are also different players in the Legislature today. House Speaker Ron Mariano, who replaced Speaker Robert DeLeo last December, is an outspoken supporter of sports betting.

That said, Senate President Karen Spilka, who has been in power since 2018, is more skittish about the policy. Spilka opposed a 2010 bill to legalize casino gambling, though she helped redraft the version of it that passed in 2011. Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, another key player in the debate, is also a past opponent of casino gambling.

So what is the line on sports betting passing this session? According to Lesser: “The odds are getting better as we go.”

SHIRA SCHOENBERG 

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Rideshare industry stalls: The number of Uber and Lyft rides plunged to a record low during the pandemic of 2020, falling to 35 million, or 62 percent below 2019 levels. The steep drop in rides meant a sharp downturn in revenue for the companies, their drivers, the state, and municipalities.

The state collects a 20-cent-fee per ride, with 10 cents going to the municipality where the ride originated, 5 cents to the Department of Transportation, and 5 cents to support the taxi and livery industries. The total fees collected by the state fell from $18.2 million in 2019 to $7 million last year.

 — Boston took the biggest drop, with the number of rides originating within the city falling by nearly 30 million to 15.9 million and the city’s fee revenue declining to $1.6 million. Cambridge saw ride originations fall from nearly 7.9 million to nearly 2.3 million. Although trip levels were way down, Somerville, Brookline, Worcester, Quincy, Everett, and Malden remained in the top 10 for ride origination; Newton and Medford fell out of the top 10, replaced by Brockton and Lynn.

— The rides that took place in 2020 generally traveled longer distances at faster speeds compared to rides in previous years. The average ride in Massachusetts in 2020 traveled at a speed of 20.5 miles per hour, up from 17.1 miles per hour in 2019. The faster speeds in 2020 undoubtedly reflect the decline in traffic congestion during the pandemic. Read more.

Still waiting: Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins slammed the Baker administration for failing to standardize and update systems for sharing criminal justice information among prosecutors, judges, and jails. Updates were required under a 2018 law, but state officials say they are still at the beginning of the gargantuan process — establishing uniform reporting methods across hundreds of various agencies. Read more.

Kirk Minihane prevails: The reporter for Barstool Sports claimed he was Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen to get an interview with Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, but he did ask for and get permission to record the mayor’s comments. Curtatone sued Minihane, claiming he did not give consent for the recording because he believed he was talking to Cullen. The Supreme Judicial Court said consent is consent no matter who you’re talking to and sided with Minihane. Read more.

Suggestions for addressing racism: The Legislature’s Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion took testimony on ways to combat racism. At the end of the day, the suggestions were plentiful but consensus was elusive. Read more

OPINION

Drive less: Sen. Ed Markey and John Stout of MassPIRG call for policies to reduce driving and make it easier for people to get around without cars. They say fewer vehicle miles traveled will improve health and climate outcomes. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The Legislature blew through the deadline to extend cocktails-to-go and other pandemic rules as Gov. Charlie Baker’s declaration of a state of emergency expired at midnight last night. Lawmakers say they’ll work to get a bill to Baker’s desk soon. (Boston Globe

Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a $2.6 billion capital spending plan, which includes $87 million for five major projects at state colleges and universities. (Boston Herald

House Speaker Ron Mariano is hospitalized in Florida and fitted with a pacemaker. (State House News Service)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The St. Vincent Hospital nurses’ strike hits the 100-day mark. (Telegram & Gazette)

ELECTIONS

The union representing Boston EMS workers endorses Annissa Essaibi George for mayor. (Boston Herald)

Attorney General Maura Healey, a would-be candidate for governor next year, is facing heat from the left. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

People seeking unemployment benefits in Massachusetts are again required to prove that they’re looking for work. (Salem News)

The Cannabis Control Commission will continue to allow curbside pickup and telehealth visits for medical patients even once the state of emergency ends. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

One idea on the table as Boston considers permanent changes to its exam school entry rules: a lottery among “academically qualified students,” which would represent a huge change from the system of offering seats in rank-order based on test scores and grades. (Boston Globe

The Supreme Court has asked the Biden administration to weigh in on the Harvard admissions case, in which Asian Americans are challenging the university’s affirmative action policies, effectively delaying the court’s consideration of the issue. (Boston Globe

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA’s Blue Line is facing a growing threat from the ocean. (WBUR)

The Steamship Authority’s website is back up and running after a cyberattack. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Four protestors who were in Boston protesting George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 sued the city, saying the Boston police used excessive force on them, resulting in injuries. (MassLive)