Massachusetts Sports Betting in Doubt

Rafael Devers #11 of the Red Sox rounds the bases after he hit a two-run home run in the first inning against the Yankees. Elsa/Getty Images/AFP

The topic of legalizing sports betting in the Bay State has hit a crescendo as the formal legislative session ends next week. It appears both chambers of the state legislature are in favor of passing a sports betting bill but each has a different opinion as to what it should look like. 

Bay State Pols Repeating History

If you have lived in Massachusetts long enough then you know that the legislature moves at a glacial pace. Consider the 20 years of Bay State residents fleeing across state lines to throw their money at the one-armed bandits at Foxwoods or Mohegan. It was as if no elected representative bothered to ask how much money the state was losing to the Connecticut casinos. 

It took two decades for a full-fledged Las Vegas-style casino to finally open and quell the interstate deluge of funds going south. Since that time, the Encore Boston Harbor located in Everett, Massachusetts, 10 minutes south of Boston, and the MGM located in the western part of the state in Springfield are bringing in beaucoup dough to the state’s tax coffers. 

The only ones who didn’t see this tax bonanza coming seem to be the very same who are responsible for creating untapped revenue streams to fund government projects and lower state income taxes for the working class. 

Well, the latter is a bit of a laugher because they don’t call it Taxachusetts for nothing. Any tax in Massachusetts that was ever scheduled to be “sunsetted” has never actually set. These taxes linger in Massachusetts like a bad odor or are stealthily replaced with another similar tax. It’s just the way it is in the Baystate and don’t expect it to change anytime soon because old habits die hard.

Close to the Finish Line

And so, we have another revenue stream begging to be tapped. The taxpayers have voted thumbs up to sports betting, yet it has taken years for the bill to get this far and this close to the governor’s desk. But the disagreement boils down primarily to whether or not to include college sports in the sports betting bill. The House says yea, while the Senate says nay. 

Of course, removing college sports from the table will have a deleterious effect on the tax windfall the state is expecting. On the surface, not having college football and basketball will cut the expected revenues by as much as 60 percent.

But it will also allow local and offshore sportsbooks to continue to thrive because gamblers want the entire buffet, not just a few courses. This will prevent many from even opening an account with a licensed sportsbook because watching a full slate of Saturday college football without being able to bet on it or sitting on one’s hands throughout the March Madness tournament will not cut it. 

House Speaker Ronald Mariano, a proponent of including college sports, was asked if the gap between the House and the senate could be bridged before the session ends.

“Realistically, I don’t know. I don’t know. We’re far apart.”

He further pled his case for college sports by saying, “I think there’s an opportunity to include college sports, rather than let it be only handled by bookies. I mean, I don’t understand if you’re going to do sports betting why you would leave out Final Four bowl games and the whole college football season. It doesn’t seem to be worth doing if you’re going to leave those.”