Sports betting bill refiled, seeks more revenue

Sports betting is back.

State Sen. Brendan Crighton, a Lynn Democrat, reintroduced a bill this week to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts, reviving a debate that died without action at the end of the last legislative session.

“Looking at the states around us, folks are going to bet on sports whether or not we legalize this, but right now the money’s going to the black market and to other states,” Crighton said in an interview with CommonWealth. “With the black market, you’re not getting any consumer protections. We think it’s important to bring people out of the shadows into the regulated market.”

Last summer, the Massachusetts House voted on a bill to legalize sports betting. The House then included sports betting in its version of an economic development bill. But the Senate never held a vote on the policy, and it was left out of the final version of the economic development bill.

The lead Senate negotiator, Sen. Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, said at the time that the Senate would “like to do sports betting,” but the economic development bill was not the right vehicle to do it in.

Crighton’s bill is just one version of what is likely to be multiple proposals batted around this legislative session.

His bill would allow sports betting by adults ages 21 and up at the state’s casinos, slots parlor, horse racing tracks, and simulcast facilities, and through mobile and digital apps. The industry would be overseen by the Gaming Commission.

The biggest difference compared to a similar bill Crighton filed last session is the application fee would be increased from $1 million to $10 million. The tax rate imposed on companies would also increase, from 12.5 percent of revenues to 15 percent. There would be a renewal fee of $1.25 million due every five years. He estimated that the bill would bring in $100 million in initial application fees and more than $45 million in annual recurring revenues, though he could not offer an exact estimate. “We’d rather create a fee and tax structure that will benefit as many people as we can while keeping the operators competitive,” he said.

Crighton’s bill would allow betting on college and professional sports, but not on Massachusetts college teams. Asked how that would work in tournaments like the NCAA’s March Madness, Crighton said that level of detail would be worked out by a legislative committee.

Crighton has been pushing hard to get attention for the bill early in the session. He spoke with the legal sports betting industry news site LegalSportsBetting about it. Crighton told the State House News Service that he sees an appetite for addressing sports betting, and the News Service noted that since Crighton first filed his bill in 2019, the number of states with legal sports betting has grown from eight to 19, plus Washington, DC. 

Christian Wade, a reporter for the North of Boston Media Group, noted that in New Hampshire, more than 6,000 people signed up to play the day sports betting became legal on December 30, 2020. More than $15.8 million was wagered in the first two weeks, including bets placed by Massachusetts residents, according to the New Hampshire Lottery.

Gov. Charlie Baker supports sports betting, having introduced his own bill in 2019.

The concept has powerful support from gaming and sports organizations including the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, Celtics, Revolution, MGM Springfield, and the PGA Tour – not to mention lobbying by the two major mobile betting sites, Boston-based DraftKings and New York-based FanDuel.

The ball is in the Legislature’s court.



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