Massachusetts Keeps Dragging Its Feet on Sports Wagering

By Derek Helling

May 21st, 2019 - 8:30am

As summer nears, and with it the approach of another NFL season, Massachusetts legislators seem content to continue to extend their charity toward neighboring Rhode Island.

In 2018 Rhode Island’s general treasury was enriched by millions of dollars just off of land-based sports betting, and this year’s budget calls for even more fiscal benefit with the looming expansion of the state’s legal sports betting program into the realm of mobile action. R.I. has Massachusetts legislators to thank for that, in part.

Massachusetts Bettors Seek Welcoming Place

It’s uncertain exactly how many Massachusetts residents made the journey to their neighboring state to place legal wagers last year, or how many might plan to do it again this fall. What looks more certain is that is likely to be what they will have to do if they want to place bets on American football games legally.

A bill proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker and several other sports betting bills continue to languish in the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, which is co-chaired by Sen. Eric Lesser.

Lesser has expressed the lack of urgency to move on any of the measures.

“We’re going to be diligent and thorough and take our time,” Lesser told the Boston Globe. “The state has a relatively healthy budget this year, so we want to make sure that we have the best and most thought-out proposal.”

Sports betting revenue might not be necessary to cover the state’s budget demands, perhaps a reason for a lack of urgency for legislators to move on the issue. But the fact that a full calendar year has eclipsed since the United States Supreme Court ruled on Murphy v. NCAA -- and overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act -- without any bills even coming to the House or Senate floor for a vote is still a reason for intrigue.

R.I.’s legislature displayed no dilly or dally after seeing the increase in action at its land-based books, moving to legalize mobile bets as well. The actual implementation of such is currently delayed but could be live before September. Connecticut and New Hampshire, two other states which border Massachusetts, are also in process of trying to lure Massachusetts residents to travel to place legal bets.

Other interested parties, like casinos and potential online sportsbook operators such as DraftKings, have been trying to get Massachusetts citizens to apply pressure to their representatives. Each day that goes by without a legal framework being in place means lost potential revenue for them.

Boston Wagering Market Has Massive Appeal

Boston’s sports betting market is a sought-after prize for such gaming operators, with not only the appeal of New England Patriots games but contests involving Boston College, the Boston Bruins, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Red Sox as well. Had legislators moved as quickly as Rhode Island’s, those operators could be seeing action on the current Stanley Cup Final.

Another reason that the delay is curious is because Massachusetts doesn’t have constitutional issues to consider or indigenous people’s control over gaming in the state to contend with like other states. It seems the only reason that Massachusetts most likely won’t have legal sports betting in place by the time the Patriots kickoff the 2019-20 season is simply because legislators want to take their time.

It’s possible that Massachusetts could have legal sports betting up and running in time for the next round of NFL playoffs. But in the meantime, operators in Rhode Island and potentially other New England states will continue to benefit from the delay.
Written By
Derek Helling

Since graduating from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double-majoring in Journalism & Mass Communications and Sport Studies, Derek Helling has worked for small-town newspapers and written for various outlets, including FanSided's The Outside Game, Ozy and Legal Sports... Read More

Since graduating from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double-majoring in Journalism & Mass Communications and Sport Studies, Derek Helling has worked for small-town newspapers and written for...

Read More