Sports betting card

As more and more states legislate sports betting in their jurisdictions, the question that’s asked most frequently is “what about online betting?”  Currently, only 2 states allow online betting while 2 more are preparing for its launch. Now, Massachusetts is getting ready to step into the arena and bring sports betting even further into the 21st century.

If Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed plans are accepted by the Massachusetts State Legislature, Massachusetts could be the first state to legislate totally non-casino sports betting. Currently, Nevada and New Jersey allow online sports betting but in those states, sports betting fans have their choice of betting in a casino or online with all online sites affiliated with state casino operators.

Now Massachusetts is considering whether, in addition to via the state’s land-based casinos, it should also allow online sports betting through non-casino betting operators.  

New Bill

The bill to legislate sports fans to wager on professional games on-site and online was proposed in January by Governor Charlie Baker. Currently, Massachusetts has a sports parlor in Plainville and an active casino, the MGM-Springfield, which provides a wide range of gambling opportunities. A third casino site, Wynn Resorts’ Encore- Boston Harbor, is scheduled to open in June 2019, pending a review of the company’s license by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Baker says that legalizing online sports betting will net Massachusetts $35 million in revenue in fiscal 2020. The state will apply this revenue to all Massachusetts communities for education, public works, roads, and other local aid programs.

The proposal places the tax rate on bets placed at both online and on-site sports books at 12.5%.   Baker explained his objectives in a statement. “Expanding Massachusetts’ developing gaming industry to include wagering on professional sports is an opportunity for Massachusetts to invest in local aid while remaining competitive with many other states pursuing similar regulations. Our legislation puts forth a series of commonsense proposals to ensure potential licensees are thoroughly vetted and safeguards are in place to protect against problem gambling and legal activity.”

Legislation

Baker’s proposal places the age limit at which bettors would be able to place wagers at 21 for major league sports teams. Betting on high school or college sports, amateur sports or e-sports would be prohibited. Players, coaches, referees and other sports employees would be banned from placing wagers.

The restrictions were written up so as to be sensitive to the NCAA’s opposition to “all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community.”

Betting Operators

The opportunity to accept sports bets without a casino affiliation gives independent fantasy sports providers such as FanDuel and the Boston-based DraftKings the opportunity of a lifetime.

James Chisholm, the director for global public affairs at DraftKings, said “Baker’s initiative makes all the sense in the world for us. Whether you like it or not, there’s already sports betting going on in Massachusetts, just illegally. Legalizing sports wagering would generate revenue, keep people safe, and create opportunities for the 600-plus employees here at DraftKings.” He continued “The legalization of sports gambling is making history and revolutionizing the way people view their favorite sports teams.”

Sports Betting Show

The New England Sports Network is also showing interest. The Sports Network, which is owned by the Fenway Sports group, holds the rights to telecasts of Bruins and Red Sox games. The network has introduced a new show called “Follow the Money” which is a Vegas States and Information Network sports-betting show.

Rick Jaffe, NESN’s Vice President of Programming and Production, explained the network’s goals. “Sports-wagering regulations are changing quickly and with these changes, we anticipate an increased interest in obtaining relevant and reliable sports information. VSiN has both the experience and expertise to deliver the most up-to-date gaming data and analytics to New England’s sports fans.”

Opposition

The Massachusetts Lottery wants the legislation amended to allow it to offer online products as well. The Lottery is, presently, an in-person and cash-only enterprise. Lottery officials say that, if sports betting can take place in Massachusetts online, lottery sales should also be included in that option.  

According to State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose office oversees the lottery, “This is an operating company that needs to modernize, and what we are seeing across the world is a cannibalization of sales and the disruption caused for bricks-and-mortar companies by the internet. And particularly, there are only so many entertainment dollars in total, so Lottery for a very long time was a predictable, terrific business, but it had no competition.”

Lottery Director Michael Sweeney echoed those sentiments. “As the discussion continues about sports betting and the prospect of an online or mobile component to it, we see this as an opportunity to examine the Lottery and other existing forms of gaming in the state and establish regulations that provide a level playing field,” he said. “It is also important that all forms of gaming in the state are held to similar standards in terms of integrity, transparency, and responsible play.” 

Both Goldberg and Sweeney believe that there’s a tremendous potential for expansion for the lottery if the state will allow online sales.

No decision is expected on the bill in the near future. The bill is currently awaiting a hearing before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

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