BOSTON (WWLP) – How best to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts will be the focus of a pair of hearings at the Statehouse this week as lawmakers work to tackle the latest shift in the state’s gambling landscape.
The hearings will focus on several bills that aim to regulate betting on sports events, including one filed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker that could bring in an estimated $35 million in state revenue each year.
The focus on sports betting comes less than a decade after the Legislature approved a landmark 2011 bill to allow casino gambling in Massachusetts. Next month the first Boston-area resort style casino is set to launch when Wynn Resorts opens its Encore Boston Harbor casino to the public in Everett.
MGM Resorts International opened the state’s first resort casino last year in Springfield.
On Tuesday, the joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies will hold the first of two hearings on sports betting bills that have been filed at the Statehouse.
The move toward sports betting was prompted by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned federal law prohibiting states from legalizing sports betting. Several states, including Rhode Island, have since approved sports betting. Rhode Island officials this month said sports betting there is now expected to bring in about $15 million in the next fiscal year, half of what officials had initially hoped for.
Massachusetts has moved more slowly.
Baker took one of the first major steps in January when he unveiled a proposal that would legalize and regulate tax betting on professional sports online and at casinos in Massachusetts. The bill would allow the Massachusetts Gaming Commission — created by the casino law — to license the state’s casino operators to offer both on-site and online betting.
The proposal would also allow other online entities, such as daily fantasy sports operators, to be licensed for sports wagering.
“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,” Baker said in a statement at the time.
Under Baker’s bill, an application fee for an initial sports betting license would be set at $100,000. Once approved, an applicant would pay a licensing fee of at least $500,000 that would need to be renewed every five years.
Baker’s proposal would put a 10 percent tax on sports wagering inside casinos, while online bets would be taxed at 12.5 percent.
Daily fantasy sports contests, already legal but untaxed in Massachusetts, would also be subject to the 12.5 percent tax to “level the playing field” under Baker’s plan. Betting would not be permitted on high school, college or amateur events. Wagers would also not be permitted on esports.
Baker’s bill is one of nine sports betting bills slated to be the focus of the two-day hearing. Tuesday’s 10 a.m. hearing will include testimony from invited guests. Wednesday’s hearing, also at 10 a.m., is open to public testimony.
Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo has taken a more cautious approach to legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts. After Baker unveiled his bill in January, DeLeo assigned a House committee to study the potential ramifications of allowing gambling on sports.
Gambling addiction activists have also sounded a note of caution.
The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling has urged Baker and state lawmakers to include safeguards in any law legalizing sports betting, including dedicating funds for responsible gambling and problem gambling programs, allowing individuals to voluntarily exclude themselves from betting, and requiring venues to include signs with gambling helpline numbers and online chat and text services.
The group also said the state should set a minimum age of 21 to register and participate in wagering.
“Gambling is not a risk-free activity, and we have a state that loves to gamble,” the council’s Executive Director Marlene Warner said in a statement after Baker’s bill was unveiled.