After nearly three years of debate over legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts, there are some signs in the legislature that the long-entrenched issue may finally gain momentum.
Several bills are under consideration, including one proposed by Republican Governor Charlie Baker. And on Friday the prospects for legalization appeared to be improving in the Senate, where the problem passed away last year.
Senator Eric Lesser, a longmeadow Democrat who chairs the committee that examined the issue, has tabled a bill allowing sports betting online, in casinos and on the racetrack, but not in college competitions. He believes the state can open a market that protects consumers and athletes, and he wants to act quickly.
"The vast majority of people just want to have a little fun and bet on their favorite sports team in a social way, and we want to do that safely and legally," Lesser said.
Until now, the Senate has deliberately operated sports betting. The house included the legalization of sports betting in a far-reaching economic development bill last year, but dropped it in negotiations with the Senate.
At the beginning of the session, when the Legislature's Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies proposed a sports betting measure, the panel's senators declined to sign. Lesser, the senate chairman of that committee, said at the time that members were not ready to move forward.
On Friday, he said he believed the problem would have been resolved last year had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, which dramatically shifted the priorities of the legislation. While the crisis continues to take center stage, Lesser said sports betting could potentially be part of the response.
"When properly designed and properly implemented, this problem can be a tool and source of recovery for the state," said Lesser, who said sports betting could help boost government revenues. He said he had not yet received an estimate of how much tax income his bill would generate. Baker & # 39; s bill, which also wouldn't allow betting on college games, is expected to generate $ 35 million.
Lesser's bill would limit the game to people who are at least 21 years old. It would levy a 20 percent tax on sports betting revenues collected from casinos and train stations, and a 25 percent tax on pure online sports betting and the operators of daily fantasy sports games.
The lengthy debate here continues as dozen of states have already legalized sports betting or are doing so following a 2018 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed the practice to expand well beyond Nevada. Rhode Island and New Hampshire are among the states in the region that have programs running.
Legislature has differed in several aspects of its approach to legalization – including how college games are handled – but most of the proposals, including Lesser's, allow regulated state casinos to open sports betting locally and run online betting programs. A select group of online-only providers, including probably DraftKings from Boston, could also offer games. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission would oversee the industry.
Opponents of legalized sports betting have stated that they are concerned that the increased availability of online gambling options could make it easier for people to suffer large losses without leaving their homes, and that some are concerned about the potential for corruption in the sport.
Supporters point out the wide availability of unregulated offshore betting sites that players can access online, and they say that a strong regulatory structure will protect consumers from potential harm.
On Friday, Representative Jerald A. Parisella, a Beverly Democrat who recently assumed the chairmanship of the Economic Development Committee, said sports betting will be a major topic of conversation.
"We will do our best to have a good quality product that will hopefully be supported by all parties and make sense for the Commonwealth," said Parisella.
Andy Rosen can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.