Mass. Lawmakers Hear Testimony On Legalizing Sports Betting

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — As legal sports betting proliferates around the country and in nearby states, the revenue and jobs that the activity could provide is passing Massachusetts by, supporters told the Joint Committee on Economic Development on Thursday morning.

"In my mind, this decision is not dissimilar to discussions that were had in the past on cannabis ... this is something that's already happening in our state illegally or it's something that residents of our state are just going just over the border and taking care of and are participating in," Brian Kelly, the Select Board chair in border town Plainville, said. "And it's nothing but a loss to our communities and our state in terms of revenue and job opportunities."

While 30 states, including neighboring Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York, have authorized gamblers to place legal bets on sports in some fashion, Massachusetts has been considering whether to similarly expand gambling here since the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 ruled that the nearly-nationwide prohibition on sports wagering was unconstitutional and gave states the ability to legalize the activity.

Supporters of legalizing sports betting are vocal about it and outright opposition to the idea is much more rare. Plenty of people and groups, though, oppose some sports betting — like wagers on collegiate contests — and others focus more on ensuring measures would be in place to mitigate the social and public health impacts of legal wagering without explicitly supporting or opposing its legalization.

Among those expected to tell the committee to shield college athletics from legal sports betting is Jerry York, the legendary Boston College men's ice hockey coach. York will testify on behalf of the college, which strongly opposes collegiate betting.

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Massachusetts also has the DraftKings factor -- the daily fantasy sports-turned-sports betting giant was founded in Watertown and keeps a headquarters in Boston. In his testimony Thursday, co-founder and CEO Jason Robins will tell the committee that he would like to expand his company in Massachusetts, but can't base certain sports-betting employees here unless the activity is legal here.

"We are hopeful to have the opportunity to operate in every state and, in order to do so, until Massachusetts authorizes sports betting, we will continue to locate certain teams and functions outside of the Commonwealth," he wrote in his prepared remarks. "We urge the legislature to move swiftly so that the Commonwealth can more quickly realize the economic benefits -- and consumers can realize the safeguards and protections -- of a robust, legal sports wagering market."

On Wednesday, the Mass. Gaming Commission's Office of Research and Responsible Gaming published a white paper outlining its responsible gaming framework and mapping out how it could apply to sports wagering. The policy paper found that there was "no significant change in gambling participation on sports wagering from 2013 to 2019" in Massachusetts but noted an uptick in online gambling participation in 2016, when daily fantasy sports first became legal here.

The paper recommends that any sports betting legislation include "positive play" supports like automated budget alerts and "cool off" periods, restrict the use of multiple accounts and prohibit credit card use, limit where and how betting firms can advertise, and commit to data reporting and research.

"Because sports wagering is predictive of concurrent and future problem gambling behavior, it is crucial for there to be measures to support safer levels of play and mitigate gambling-related harm," MGC Director of Research and Responsible Gaming Mark Vander Linden said.

By Colin A. Young, State House News Service

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