Sports betting legalization is finally on deck in Massachusetts where it could generate an estimated $70 million in annual tax revenue and lawmakers teeing up amendments that would allow wagering inside stadiums.
"Recently some of the sports teams have asked us about in-stadium betting, and it's something to look at," said state Rep. Jerald Parisella, D-Beverly, who co-chairs the Legislature's Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. "It is sort of the newer trend."
State representatives are preparing to debate a 38-page rewrite of a bill by Rep. Daniel Cahill's, D-Lynn, which was reported out by Parisella's committee, that would legalize betting on professional and college sports for people 21 and older. It includes wagering on esports, video games and car racing but does not yet include language about in-stadium betting.
That debate is set for Thursday.
The law lays out a framework for three categories of licenses — for casinos, race tracks and mobile operators.
Beacon Hill sources tell the Herald several lawmakers are exploring amendments that would add an additional license category for retailers to allow fans to place bets in person, adjacent to or a half-mile away from a sporting facility. That would include, if passed, Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.
The bill could change between now and when it hits the House floor, as it still needs approval from the House Committee on Ways and Means.
Sports gambling is a win among voters, polls show. A June poll commissioned by Encore Boston Harbor and the Plainridge Park Casino Commission and conducted by David A. Paleologos Associates found that 61% of Massachusetts voters would support sports betting in the state.
Lawmakers have for years tried — and failed — to legalize sports betting as a growing number of states have done so. As of July, some form of sports gambling is operational or pending in 31 states plus Washington, D.C., according to the American Gaming Association.
With gambling already on the books in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York, Parisella points out "we're surrounded by it."
More than a dozen sports betting bills were pitched by lawmakers this session, including one by state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, which also earned a favorable committee report on Monday. Lesser's bill would not allow gambling on college games.
"Why should we be giving away the store when can be opening it up for ourselves?" said Rep. Steve Howitt, R-Seekonk, who co-sponsored the House bill.
Licensing fees for the three casinos, two race tracks and up to nine mobile app operators described in the bill would generate as much as $80 million for the state to start and again upon their renewal every five years, Parisella estimated.
The state could cash in on another $60 million to $70 million in tax revenue annually, he said. In-person bets at casino and track retailers will be taxed at 12.5% with mobile bets costing slightly more at 15%.
But it's not just about tax revenue, Parisella said sports betting legalization will create a new industry with the potential to bring a thousand or more new jobs into Massachusetts. Encore Boston Harbor casino is already building out a sportsbook in anticipation of legalization.
The bill would also provide safeguards against destructive gambling and fund services, he said. If House members approve the bill this week, it requires Senate action before heading to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk for a signature. The governor has indicated support for the measure, including sports gambling revenue in his budget proposal earlier this year.
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