Baker bets on sports wagering $$$ in budget

Sports

BOSTON (SHNS/WWLP) – With Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and New York already accepting bets on sporting events and other nearby states moving in the same direction, it’s “kind of inappropriate” for Massachusetts to maintain a ban on sports wagering, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday.

For the third year in a row, Baker is counting on $35 million in revenue from sports betting in his latest budget proposal, but the Legislature would have to legalize the activity first. The governor’s fiscal 2022 budget plan (H 1) includes language to allow betting on professional sports.

The House approved sports betting last summer as part of its economic development bill, but the Senate never debated the issue or brought it to a vote. Baker said Wednesday that he got the message from lawmakers last year that sports betting “was something that they just weren’t going to get to,” but he said he expects the idea will be given some attention this session.

“I do think it’s something they want to take on in this legislative session for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is we now have a lot of experience with other states in the northeast that are in the space and it seems kind of inappropriate at this point for us not to be there as well,” Baker said.

He added, “I do think this thing is starting to mature and I think it just makes sense for us to give our people the same chance to play that people have in other states.”

Sen. Eric Lesser, who last session co-chaired the committee that studied sports betting and resisted attempts by other senators to add the issue to the economic development bill, told the News Service last week that he believes “the time has come” for Massachusetts to legalize sports betting.

Baker’s fiscal 2022 budget counts on $35 million in sports betting revenue, but that is on the high end of estimates for annual revenue from sports betting in Massachusetts. When the House members of the Economic Development Committee advanced a sports betting bill a year ago, they projected about $20 million in annual revenue.

Unlike Baker’s proposal, that bill would have allowed wagers on collegiate games. Opponents have questioned whether that relatively small annual revenue amount is worth the public health and social costs of bringing sports betting out of the shadows.

By comparison, the state has collected an average of just more than $21 million in tax revenue from the casinos and slots parlor each month of operation since Encore Boston Harbor opened in 2019. Unlike casinos, sportsbooks operate with small profit margins.

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