assachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he “absolutely” agrees that legalized sports betting in the state could generate revenue for the state government as it faces the COVID-19 pandemic effects.
During a press conference Wednesday, the governor was asked about comments Tuesday by a Boston Red Sox executive, who reportedly argued legalizing mobile sports betting was a “low-hanging fruit” that should be included in an economic development bill to help avoid “deeper more painful budget cuts.”
Baker noted that his administration has filed legislation to allow gambling on professional sports by adults over the age of 21 at the state’s casinos, as well as online and mobile betting. “We wanted to give Massachusetts the ability to have people play here rather than playing elsewhere,” Baker said Wednesday, alluding to moves by neighboring New Hampshire and Rhode Island to legalize sports betting, Boston.com reports.
“And I absolutely believe that, in addition to sort of the cross-border competition issues that would be addressed by doing something here in Massachusetts, it would certainly generate revenue and it would be something that a lot of people would be interested in here at home as opposed to doing across the border,” he added. “We’d like to see that happen.”
As the end of the legislative session nears this month, lawmakers discuss ideas to accelerate the state’s economic recovery. David Friedman, senior vice president of legal and government affairs for the MLB's Red Sox, told lawmakers during a meeting of the Resilience and Recovery Special Committee on Tuesday that legalizing sports betting would provide at least a modest amount of relief to pro sports teams, casino operators and other companies hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
David Friedman, SVP of legal and government affairs for the Red Sox.
“Four months into this pandemic, mobile sports betting takes on a new urgency for the leagues and teams. As I said, our revenues have fallen off a cliff, and so the direct financial impact of revenues for sports betting for teams may be relatively modest — we’re not going to be running sportsbooks ourselves — but today every single dollar of advertising and sponsorship revenue is extremely important to us,” Friedman said, as reported by Mass Live.
The special committee, led by House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, heard testimony on how to expand existing job programs, new partnerships and policies that could stimulate the economy. Friedman said legalizing sports betting was a lower-risk proposal to add to an economic development bill.
Friedman delivered testimony as part of a larger coalition of bookmakers, pro sports teams and MGM Resorts. The coalition includes the Red Sox, the MLB, the Boston Celtics, the NBA, the PGA Tour, Boston-based DraftKings, FanDuel and MGM Springfield. MGM, which reopened earlier this month, could use sports betting to bring customers back to the Springfield casino as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, Friedman said. The Red Sox, which begins its season Friday night, stands to lose millions in unsold tickets.
The Joint committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies released a bill in March that would allow adults age 21 or older to place bets at the state’s casinos, slot parlors or live horse tracks. The bill also allows sports betting on a limited number of web or mobile apps for players who are in the state. The industry would be overseen by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, but it’s unclear whether legislators will approve it before the end of session July 31. Lawmakers face a jam-packed end of the legislative session with major bills on police reform, transportation and other priorities that remain unresolved.
Sportsbooks tend to generate small profit margins, but Friedman said companies are relying on every dollar from advertising and sponsorship revenue in the wake of the pandemic. If the sports betting bill passed, Friedman said operators could be running by the end of the season at the earliest and definitely by Opening Day 2021. “I do fear that COVID-19 is still going to cause major business challenges for all of us next year as well,” he said.