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Massachusetts Regulators Prep as Lawmakers Ponder Sports Betting

Massachusetts Regulators Prep as Lawmakers Ponder Sports Betting article feature image
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Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images. Pictured: The steps of the Massachusetts State House.

Anticipating a change in law, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is getting ready to regulate sports betting.

“It’s still up in the air. We’re not presuming, but we want to make sure we’re ready,” Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said Thursday, during a Zoom panel held by the Sports Entertainment and Law Society at the University of New Hampshire.

The commission would regulate online and retail sports betting under multiple proposals pending in the legislature. It’s not a guarantee any of them will pass given Massachusetts’ history, but if they do, the time between bill signage and first bets could be relatively short.

Stein has been gathering information from regulators in other states, which have been “extremely helpful” in getting her up to speed on the resources, budgetary needs and consumer protections it takes to launch a legal market.

That work sets Massachusetts up to fast-track what’s taken some states as long as 17 months.

Most Lawmakers on Board

The House, Senate and Governor are all pushing to legalize sports betting; in fact, they have been for years.

But they each have their own idea of how it should work.

“It might be an issue of too many chefs in the kitchen and not speaking with a unified voice,” Daniel Wallach, a gaming lawyer and founder of Wallach Legal LLC said during the Zoom.

The Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker (R) want to prohibit all forms of collegiate betting, even on out of state schools, but House Speaker Ronald Mariano (D) has called that a deal-breaker. The bill he voted for would prohibit collegiate wagering only on individual player props.

Lawmakers also remain far apart on the amount of sportsbooks, and who controls their associated mobile licenses.

The House’s version would make an unlimited  number of licenses available, while the Senate’s would cap them and require providers to partner with one of the state’s three casinos.

They’re the same issues that have derailed legislative progress in Massachusetts for years, though the commission preparation is encouraging.

Losing Out to Neighbor States

Surrounded by legal markets, Massachusetts is one of the last remaining New England states to legalize sports betting.

Nearly 30% of New Hampshire bets during the Super Bowl came from Massachusetts residents, according to DraftKings, the sole mobile sportsbook in the Granite State.

That matches up with data Charles McIntyre, executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery, said shows a high a concentration of bets being made at liquor store parking lots close to the Massachusetts border.

If we assume that the same 30% crossed state borders all of last year, that’s $211 million in New Hampshire bets made by Massachusetts residents.

If lawmakers want to start holding on to those dollars this year, they’ll have to come to an agreement and sign-off on the same bill by July 21, the last day of their legislative session.

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