Months after a bevy of sports betting bills were filed in Massachusetts, state lawmakers finally heard from stakeholders in a two-day hearing in Boston that started Tuesday. Among the key issues that were discussed, according to WBUR, were what mobile sports betting should look like, if patrons should be allowed to bet on college sports, the state lottery, and how quickly Massachusetts should legalize.
The hearing was held by the Joint Economic Development and Emerging Technology. Nine diverse bills were on the agenda and industry witnesses were invited to testify at the closed hearing.
Home to sports betting and daily fantasy giant DraftKings, a key consideration for Massachusetts is how to handle mobile sports betting: should operators be allowed to open sportsbooks online, independent from a brick-and-mortar entity as will be the the case in Tennessee, or should they be required to be tethered to bricks-and-mortar locations, as they are in Pennsylvania and New Jersey?
Casinos support stand-alone mobile
It’s no surprise that DraftKings is lobbying for the stand-alone model.
“The legal sports betting framework should carry forward Massachusetts’ deep commitment to supporting innovation and tech companies like DraftKings by putting mobile operators on the same regulatory footing as bricks-and-mortar betting outlets,” DraftKings CEO and Co-Founder Jason Robbins said during testimony Tuesday. “To fully realize the potential for mobile sports wagering, the legislation should allow mobile operators to receive licenses directly from the regulator rather than requiring partnership with land-based facilities.”
Perhaps the biggest development on Tuesday is that DraftKings and competitor FanDuel got support from the state’s three casinos. Representatives from MGM Springfield, Plainridge Park Casino, and Encore Boston Harbor sent a letter to lawmakers ahead of the hearing in which they say they are in favor of mobile sportsbooks, both tethered to their physical locations or as stand-alone ventures through existing fantasy sports operators.
One thing we'll continue to see with the roll out of sports betting, is the complex fight between state brick-and-mortar casinos and online sports books such as @DKSportsbook and @FDSportsbook. A great article showing the latest battle in Massachusetts. https://t.co/uS70nzfdIs
— Aalok Sharma (@MNsportslaw) May 29, 2019
“Mobile sports wagering should be reserved for licensed casino operators and a limited number of daily fantasy operators with proven sports wagering experience,” reads the text of the letter. “These operators have already made tremendous investments and are large drivers of economic activity, jobs and tourism for the Commonwealth.”
Outside of the joint letter in support of stand-alone mobile sportsbooks, Penn National, the parent company of the Plainridge Park Casino reportedly voiced opposition to that concept, saying mobile operators should be required to be “tethered” to physical sportsbook locations.
Betting on college sports discussed
Another key discussion point during the hearings is whether or not to allow sports betting on college sports. States are divided on this issue, with some, like Mississippi and Pennsylvania allowing it, and others, like neighboring Rhode Island prohibiting or limiting it. Among the bills filed in Massachusetts, some prohibit betting on college sports while others allow it.
The bill filed by Governor Charlie Baker would prohibit betting on college sports. According to WBUR, Mike Kennealy, the state’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, offered this explanation for the ban: “I would say we’re trying to strike a balance here between entering the market and realizing new revenue on one hand and on the other hand taking a somewhat conservative approach. We would argue the best way to do this is on professional sports.”
On the flip side, Senator Brendan Crighton (D-3rd Essex), who sponsored a bill of his that includes betting on college sports said, “This betting is going on currently and we’re not going to be able to offer a model that lures folks away [from the illegal market] unless we include what is one of the more popular forms of betting.”
The Massachusetts Lottery was also invited to testify at Tuesday’s hearing, and State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who also oversees the lottery, said it would be an “intriguing idea” for the lottery to get involved, according to the Boston Globe. It doesn’t appear that sports betting would be run by the lottery, as it is in some states, but rather that the lottery would use the opportunity of legal sports betting to expand its offerings, and take advantage of new technology that would allow the lottery introduce cashless transactions or offer parlays.
Delaware North, whose chairman Jeremy Jacobs owns the Bruins and chairs the NHL Board of Governors, wants to be a sports betting provider in Massachusetts. https://t.co/vSLWkAXCXb
— State House News (@statehousenews) May 29, 2019
Massachusetts stakeholders feeling pressure
To date, the only New England state with legal sports betting is Rhode Island, though lawmakers in all states have considered the option. New Hampshire lawmakers appear on the cusp of legalizing, and that would mean Massachusetts would be sandwiched between two states with legal sports betting. It appears as though Connecticut’s legislative session will end next week with no action. Massachusetts’ western neighbor is a key player in the New England casino industry, but has been unable to negotiate an agreement with local tribal interests.
Some in Massachusetts still believe the state has a chance to be a “first mover,” if it legalizes ahead of Connecticut.
“It’s a race to be first in the market,” MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis is quoted as saying on MassLive. “It’s really important, particularly for a facility like ours right on the border.”
Springfield sits on the Connecticut border, and the MGM opened there last summer. Though stakeholders are clearly eager to be able to offer sports betting, lawmakers have signaled a slowdown on the path to legalization. This week’s hearings come after House leadership failed to include sports betting revenue in its FY 2020 budget, and the two chairpersons of the Joint Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee have gone on record as saying they will take their time.
“It’s a complex issue,” said Committee Co-Chair Ann-Margaret Ferrante, told MassLive last week. “It’s an issue that we want to be very diligent with, and we want to make sure should Massachusetts go forward with sports betting legalization … that we do it properly.”