Nearly 90 venues back bill

Massachusetts small businesses urge senators to legalize sports betting, including them

Massachusetts State House.
Reading time 2:29 min

Nearly 90 small businesses in Massachusetts, including bars, restaurants and private clubs, are urging state senators to legalize sports betting and include them in the market. The group of business owners and managers showed support to a sports wagering bill from Sen. Adam Gomez in a Tuesday letter directed to all 40 state senators.

In the letter, the small businesses claimed that their inclusion in a legal sports betting market would increase tax revenue for the state, bolster “geographic fairness” for residents who do not live near casinos, and provide a safe option for betting, reports Mass Live.

“We don’t need to tell you that we’ve been absolutely RAVAGED by the pandemic,” reads the letter sent to senators. “Hundreds of businesses like ours have closed and almost all of us have had to make deep cuts to stay afloat and are hanging on by a thread.”

The legalization of sports betting at local businesses would be a crucial step in ensuring customers are not lured away to casinos, the letter claims. It would also prevent residents from crossing state lines into Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island for sports betting, which has been described as a lost opportunity for both the state and its businesses.

“We cannot afford to lose more customers than we currently have and for the establishments within a certain distance of casinos they will not be able to compete fairly if they don’t have the option of providing in-person sports betting,” the letter states, as reported by the previously cited news source.

The establishments further claim they have already seen a dip in sales by competing with casinos, which can offer slots, table games, state-sponsored Keno, free drinks, and can pour later than other venues, as they are exempt from the happy hour provisions small businesses have to operate within. 

Thus, allowing kiosks at bars and restaurants is seen as an easier way for the state to make money, particularly from out-of-state visitors who may be unlikely to download a Massachusetts-specific sports betting app, as well as a new revenue source for the establishments, which were severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The letter further suggests kiosks could address problem gambling: customers engaging in sports wagering via kiosks at bars and restaurants would encounter a safer, “less predatory” experience than that offered within casinos, which constantly “push you to gamble” on slots or their table games.

The letter cites state Sen. Adam Gomez’s bill which, in addition to licensing casinos and online platforms to accept bets, also seeks to allow bars and restaurants into the market. However, business owners and managers say they are open to other legislative options as long as they give “a serious look” to allowing them to be part of the industry “in some shape, form or fashion.”

The bid to include small businesses in the market comes one week after state Sen. Eric Lesser, running for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, expressed optimism that his sports betting legislation could gain traction in the coming months.

Lesser, who plans to be on the Democratic ticket, described sports betting as a priority for the state and said he would push for legal wagering, while claiming the market should be legalized before the 2022 gubernatorial showdown. It is believed legal sports wagering could become a fixture in the lieutenant governor field.

Lesser's bill would allow sports betting at the state's casinos and racetracks and through online or mobile apps. Sports betting would only be permitted on professional, not college, sports; and the industry would be overseen by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

“My hope is that we can get that done long before the campaign,” Lesser told MassLive after announcing his bid for lieutenant governor. “Keep in mind the election is 10, 11 months from now.”

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