While Michigan became the latest state to legalize online betting, including poker, going live on Jan. 22nd, Massachusetts remains reluctant to get on board with the growing movement to bring legal online gambling inside its borders.
Already, two New England states – Rhode Island and New Hampshire – moved forward with the legalization of gambling. But while Massachusetts lawmakers have been debating the topic since 2019, there’s still no sure sign that the Bay State, the most populous state in New England, will be moving forward in this direction.
It’s a strange situation to be sure. All indications are that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is a backer of the legalization of online gambling within the state. In January 2020, the Baker administration included $35 million in sports betting revenues as part of a proposed $44.6 billion fiscal budget for 2021.
The legalization of all forms of online gambling – sports betting, casinos and poker – would create jobs in the state and boost the coffers of the government’s tax revenue.
It’s that latter factor which is leaving some involved in the process hopeful that a positive turn toward legalization could be in the making during 2021. Already, New York state, where Governor Andrew Cuomo allowed retail brick and mortar gambling sites to be legalized, but stood steadfastly against the legalization of any form of online betting, is changing its tune.
Cuomo made a push for online gambling during his Jan. 11th State of the State address.
In Kentucky, State Representative Adam Koenig introduced legislation that would have legalized online betting in the state.
The reason behind this changing of opinions? COVID-19. The pandemic has created a significant decline in revenue for state governments. Those who haven’t legalized online sports betting, casinos and poker rooms are seeing the value in doing so now to make up for this coronavirus-caused budget shortfall.
Will Massachusetts recognize similar merit and change its tack on online wagering? Industry stakeholders are hopeful that this will be the case.
Massing Their Resources
Late in 2020, some of the biggest names in Massachusetts sports – the NHL’s Boston Bruins, the NBA’s Boston Celtics, the Boston Red Sox of MLB, the NFL’s New England Patriots, the MSL’s New England Revolution, and the PGA Tour, along with several of the country’s leading betting sites – DraftKings, MGM and FanDuel – all signed on to a letter calling for the passing of online betting legislation in 2020. DraftKings, one of the biggest players in American online wagering, is headquartered in Boston.
According to experts contacted by these key stakeholders, the state could generate $50 million annually in revenue were it to legalize all forms of online wagering.
Retail casino gambling is legal in Massachusetts. There are three full-service casinos located within the state – Encore Boston Harbor, a Wynn Resorts property, is located in Everett, north of Boston, and MGM Springfield. There’s also Plainridge Park Casino, a combination slot parlor and horse racing track in Plainville.
Massachusetts lawmakers need not look far to see how much difference online betting can create in a state’s coffers. New Jersey opted to legalize online sports betting, casinos and poker in 2018. Today, the state’s betting revenue rivals the giant gambling institutions of Las Vegas and 80 percent of that betting handle is being generated online.
So You’re Saying There’s A Chance?
A bill introduced last year by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr that would have legalized online betting in the state died in the state legislature. In November, the Massachusetts Senate approved a $46 billion state budget for the upcoming fiscal year that didn’t include any form of online wagering.
So that’s it then? Maybe not.
The Massachusetts House passed an economic development bill 156-3 last summer. This bill was written with the inclusion of online betting. However, the Senate determined that an economic bill wasn’t the right avenue to bring about legalized online wagering in the state
Even some of the state senators who rejected the legalization of online gambling in 2020 feels its eventual arrival in the state is inevitable. Senator Michael Brady, who submitted a betting amendment to be part of the economic bill, believes that online wagering will be included in the state’s fiscal 2022 budget.
The process of assembling that budget begins early in 2021.