Market legalization

Massachusetts Gov. would be "happy" to sign sports betting bill if passed this session

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said on Monday he would be “happy” to sign a bill legalizing sports betting in the state should lawmakers pass one this session. Baker’s second term is set to end this year.

“There are many things that would make me happy before I leave office, if I have the chance to sign them,” Baker told reporters at the State House a day before his final State of the Commonwealth address, reports Mass Live. “One of them would certainly be a sports betting bill.”

Baker said that passing a sports bill would open a burgeoning market for the state and recalled that, along with Lieutenant Gov. Karyn Polito, he filed legislation to that end several years ago. They both filed a second bill after that.

“I know it’s a difficult issue with a lot of elements to it,” admitted Baker. “And it would be my hope, of course, that our colleagues in the House and Senate would find a way to get to ‘yes’ on that before the end of the legislative session.”

Massachusetts State House.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a long-time supporter of sports betting in the state, had previously expressed approval for the measure in the past. “Massachusetts is losing out to many of our neighbors on this,” he said, an argument often leveraged by supporters of market legalization.

State lawmakers have suggested Massachusetts is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue as residents drive to place bets in states that have already legalized the market. Four out of five neighboring states already allow sports gaming.

“My hope is that we can get that done long before the campaign,” Sen. Eric Lesser, running for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, said about sports betting legalization earlier this month. “Keep in mind the election is 10, 11 months from now.”

Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park -the state’s three commercial casinos- have all urged officials to allow betting on sports, claiming the current prohibition on this form of wagering puts them at a competitive disadvantage with venues in neighboring states.

While the state House almost unanimously passed a sports betting bill last year, the legislation wasn’t acted on in the Senate, amid a number of concerns. These include which entities should be allowed to participate, and differentiating college athletes from professional ones.

House Bill 3993 sought to allow the three gambling facilities to develop sportsbooks, while also granting privileges to the state’s two simulcasting facilities. Gross gaming revenue (GGR) would be subjected to a 12.5% tax rate for land-based sportsbooks, while mobile operations would be taxed at 15%.

Earlier this month, nearly 90 small businesses in the state, including bars, restaurants and private clubs, urged state senators to legalize sports betting and include them in the market. The group of business owners and managers showed support for a sports wagering bill from Sen. Adam Gomez in a 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, reported Mass Live at the time.

“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.”

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