few weeks ago, State Senator Brendan Crighton re-filed a bill that would legalize wagers on sporting events in Massachusetts. Now, he spoke with Yogonet to discuss the details of his proposal, in which ways it is different from Governor Baker’s own sports betting bill, and the benefits that this activity will have for residents, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Sports betting —like in many U.S. states— is live in Massachusetts but is being done through the illegal marketplace and also over bordering states like New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and soon likely Connecticut.
“Our goal is to really create a regulated industry; to bring consumers out of the shadows into a system that has strong consumer protections, and also brings much-needed revenue to the state,” Crighton began.
He explained that the approach in his proposal, Bill SD.177, is to have a flexible model in terms of who is allowed to earn a license, so it includes the state’s brick-and-mortar casinos, slots parlors, horse racing simulcast facilities, and mobile betting.
“We want to create a level playing field for all of those potential licensees. We didn’t want to pick winners and losers, because we think that competition amongst them will spark innovation and creativity and lead to a better product overall.”
In terms of the benefits that a regulated industry would provide to the state, Crighton said that the biggest beneficiary will be consumers: “Providing them with protection a think is the biggest benefit; that being said, as a result of the pandemic, we are facing a lot of uncertainty in our economy right now. What we do know is that Massachusetts residents will wager billions and billions of dollars outside of our state, whether offshore or in other states this year, and a lot of that money could go to valuable programs to help our constituency overall so,” he added.
“Our tax rate is at 15% percent which is pretty modest and in the middle line compared to other states,” Crighton explained. “Based on studies that have been done, we suspect that at that tax rate, and with the flexible model, we will bring in over 60 million dollars annually.”
The Senator stressed the importance of having revenues coming in before bets are placed, so his proposal provides for a heavy license application fee, at 10 million dollars per operator: “If we just use the existing entities that we have in Massachusetts, you are looking at 70 million dollars before a bet is ever placed. We certainly see this as a valuable revenue source that we can put to good use.”
Another sports betting bill passed the Massachusetts House but died when the Senate failed to vote on it before the end of the last legislative session. When asked about that, Crighton explained that he thinks it was the timing of the pandemic. “I don’t think that action wasn’t taken because this isn’t a sound policy or because this isn’t a policy that will bring a lot of benefits to the commonwealth. In any crisis, you have to prioritize what’s most crucial to the preservation of life and public health.”
“More and more folks and legislators are getting comfortable with the concept of sports betting so I do see stronger chances of the session,” he added.
When asked about Governor Baker’s support for legalized sports betting, who filed his own proposal —HD 678— last week, he said that even though it is great to have the governor on board, his bill does not allow for wagers on college games. “I feel strongly about this, college sports need to be part of sports betting.”
“If we want to lure people out of the black market into a regulated market, we cannot take away one of the most attractive amenities of sports betting which is college games,” Crighton explained. “We do provide an exemption for Massachusetts-based colleges which many other states have taken a similar approach.”