Weighing Risks, Massachusetts Hedges Bet On Sports Wagering

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BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts has plenty to gain or lose as policymakers weigh the state's response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on sports betting.

After all, the state is home to some of the nation's most ardent sports fans and most successful professional sports franchises.

Massachusetts' first two resort-style casinos, both scheduled to open in the coming months, have a vested interest in decisions the state makes about legalized sports wagering.

Massachusetts also is home to DraftKings, the Boston-based company hoping to expand its daily fantasy sports offering to include sports betting in states that allow it.

About the only certainty, however, is that no major decisions are expected on Beacon Hill anytime soon.

A closer look:


Some states are moving swiftly to legalize sports betting — perhaps by the start of the NFL season in September.

Massachusetts isn't one of them.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo has all but ruled out passing any new laws around sports betting during the legislative session that ends July 31, citing the complexity involved.

"These aren't very easy questions that you can just expect to resolve in a short period of time and say, 'OK, let's just do it this way and see how it works and them come back later,'" DeLeo said. "I think we have to listen to all sides pro and con ... and come up with a piece of legislation that I think we can all be proud of."

The speaker indicated he is likely to tap Rep. Joseph Wagner to take the lead on crafting any sport betting proposal. The Chicopee Democrat was among the principal authors of the 2011 law that legalized casino gambling in Massachusetts.

"It's more important to get it right than to do it quickly," said Wagner, in response to questions about whether Massachusetts risks falling behind other states. "I think only time will tell whether states that have already taken action will in fact have gotten it right."

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker also has said much "homework" is needed before any conclusions are reached.


If sports betting were to be legalized in the Bay State, would it be allowed online or through mobile apps? Would it be offered through the state lottery? How would the tax rate be set? Who would regulate and enforce rules around sports betting and make sure children and teens are protected?

Those are just a handful of the thorny issues policymakers need to sort out.

Other concerns include protecting the integrity of sporting events and preventing a surge in gambling addiction.

The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling has urged lawmakers to keep in mind "the protection of those suffering from or at risk of developing a gambling disorder."


In February, prior to the Supreme Court ruling, an analysis of the potential market for legalized sports betting by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission projected annual state tax revenues would be between $8.6 million and $61.3 million.

Why such a broad range?

The calculations were based on three potential tax rates, 6.75 percent, 10 percent or 15 percent, along with three models for the availability and ease of sports betting: "limited," ''moderate," or "convenient." Those rates and terms were borrowed from a 2017 national study by the American Gaming Association.

Using the lowest tax rate and a limited availability model, the Gaming Commission's analysis arrived at the $8.6 million estimate; a 10 percent tax rate with moderate availability would produce revenues of about $27.2 million, and combining a 15 percent rate with convenient availability of sports betting options generated the $61.3 million estimate.


The debate over legalized sports betting in Massachusetts coincides with the planned opening of the state's first two resort casinos: MGM Springfield in August and Encore Boston Harbor, owned by Wynn Resorts, as early as June 2019.

Both operators have experience with sports wagering at their Nevada casinos and appear eager to make it available to their future customers in Massachusetts, should the state allow it.

"We look forward to working with legislators and policy makers to achieve a regulatory outcome that benefits states and consumers alike while ensuring the integrity of sports," MGM said in a statement issued after the high court decision.

Penn National, which owns the state's only active gambling facility, said sports betting could be "another amenity" for customers at its slots parlor in Plainville, MassLive.com reported.

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