A day after Rhode Island legalized mobile sports betting, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday tried once again to light a fire under the Massachusetts General Court. A dozen bills relating to sports betting have been assigned to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. Not one of them has a hearing date, and according to committee staff, no sports betting hearings are on the horizon.
All the bills were filed within days of each other in mid-January before a deadline and immediately assigned to committee. As surrounding states legalize and actively consider legalizing sports betting, what is going on in Massachusetts? It seems Baker is getting impatient, and is equally flummoxed by the lack of movement, and he used a ribbon cutting at DraftKings‘ massive new office building earlier this week to needle the General Court again.
“Our preferred option would be that this is something the Legislature takes up before they break for the summer, which will probably be somewhere around August,” Baker told reporters after the ceremony, according to the Sentinel & Enterprise. “That would be the timeline we think makes sense, because that would land before the start of the next NFL season.”
MA governor’s earlier involvement
Today, @DraftKings was honored to host @MassGovernor and special guests to the ribbon-cutting ceremony of our new HQ—this state-of-the-art, Back Bay neighborhood location is the largest single-floor office space in #Boston. Find the press release here: https://t.co/RtysDjIcVn pic.twitter.com/FluFhalkNF
— DraftKingsNews (@DraftKingsNews) March 26, 2019
Baker in mid-January sent a proposal to the state legislature that is similar to Sen. Bill Crighton’s (D-3rd Essex), who SD 903, a bill that would allow interactive sports betting operators to open online sportsbooks — without being connected to a brick-and-mortar casino. In other words, a green light to DraftKings, which has not been shy to underscore the large number of Massachusetts residents it employs, and the tax dollars it pays.
On that casino front, the latest addition was the opening of the MGM Springfield, near the Connecticut border, late last summer, and the Encore Boston Harbor is set to open later this year. The state also has two active dog tracks and Indian tribes that are interested in opening casinos.
As for a potential timeframe for a legal sports betting rollout, generally has taken states between a few to six months to get sports betting up and running once it has been legalized. Beyond the legislative piece of the puzzle, a regulatory agency must develop rules, operators must build out physical sportsbooks and put technology into place, staff must be trained. So even if the General Court were to pass sports betting legislation in April (and with no hearings so far, that’s a stretch), it’s highly unlikely that a bet could be placed by September.
Elsewhere in New England
Baker stopped short of including sports betting revenue in his FY 2019-20 budget, a tactic that Raimondo used last year in Rhode Island and that New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker have employed this year.
New Hampshire lawmakers hosted a regional sports betting summit earlier this month and bills to legalize sports betting are moving forward in both legislative chambers. In Illinois, a package of bills was filed late last week and a comprehensive hearing on sports betting is set for Thursday with the intent of having sports betting legislation on Pritzker’s desk by the end of May.
Every New England state currently has some sort of sports betting bill in its state legislature. The first full-fledged sports betting bill was filed in Maine last week, Vermont has three bills circulating, and Connecticut lawmakers have had multiple marathon hearings on sports betting, but little real movement.
At issue in Connecticut is how to preserve tribal-state compacts with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes that run the state’s two casinos. On Wednesday, it was announced that Mohegan Sun has signed a deal with Kambi Sports to run its online and physical sportsbooks, whenever those become legal.
Kambi has received criticism here in U.S. for certain bet approval processes and miniature limits for some.
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) March 27, 2019
In Massachusetts, Baker has his eye set on sports betting revenue, which his office in January projected could be as much as $35 million. But before that money starts flowing, lawmakers will have to decide which bill to move forward. Separate from Baker’s proposal and SD 903, another bill calls for a 0.25 percent “integrity fee” to be paid to the professional sports leagues. And none of the bills have the same tax rate or application fees — in fact, both Baker and Crighton set a $1 million application fee for stand-alone mobile sportsbooks.
Point being, there is still much to sort out, and with no hearing date set, it’s going to be a heavy lift to get anything done before the NFL’s opening day.
“People still do it,” Baker said Tuesday of sports betting. “There’s a $150 billion annual betting market that exists on the black market in the U.S. That just shows people want it, so why not create a safe, legal environment, bring in tax dollars for the state, and create great jobs and opportunities for employers like us?”