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The state Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would legalize sports betting in the Commonwealth, but prohibit wagering on college sports. 

The legislation was narrower than the version the House passed last summer, which allowed for betting on both professional and college sports.  

If signed into law, the new gambling program would bring in a projected $35 million in annual revenue to the state, according to Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michel Rodrigues. 

Passage of the measure sets up negotiation between the two chambers before the end of the formal session in July. 

The Senate measure prohibits the use of credit cards to place bets, allows people to set limits on how much money, and how often, they gamble, and addresses compulsive and problem gambling. 

Opinion

 

 

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by this state’s mind-numbing hesitancy when it comes to sports gambling.

After all, legislators waited years after other states moved ahead with casino gambling to finally put a measure in place for Massachusetts. Time and again, casino gambling was brought up for votes and brushed aside for … another day. Finally, casino gambling was approved roughly a decade ago, but the hesitation cost the state dearly. Indeed, by the time the three casino operations in the state, including MGM Springfield, were up and running, the competition in surrounding states had increased exponentially, essentially changing the landscape and making it far more difficult for those casinos to gain the revenues that were projected when the casino bill was finally passed.

One might have thought the state would have learned from this expensive lesson, but here we are in late March, the middle of this year’s college basketball championships, the biggest betting event on the planet, and the state appears nowhere close to passing a sports-gambling bill.

It’s perplexing, but it’s also quite frustrating. The casinos sorely need this huge revenue stream, and the lack of sports betting is putting them at a competitive disadvantage, not only during March Madness, but the other 11 months of the year as well. The casinos have all built facilities in anticipation of a sports-gambling measure — MGM has created two areas for watching and wagering on sports (see story on page 33) — but they currently sit unused or have been put to other uses.

Theories abound about why there is such hesitation on sports gambling, including the one concerning it becoming competition for the state’s highly lucrative lottery. We understand the premise, but people were saying the same thing about the state’s three casinos. Almost four years after they’ve opened, the lottery is still thriving.

Another theory is that legislators are wary that sports gambling — on top of the casinos and the aforementioned lottery — would be too much gambling and perhaps put more people at risk of developing addictions.

We understand this theory as well, but if people want to bet on sports — and a large number of people do (Americans spent $9.7 billion on sports bets this past January alone) — they will find a way to do it. And with New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and other nearby states already allowing such gambling, they don’t have to travel far to do it.

Overall, 15 states introduced sports-betting legislation in 2021, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the big question is why Massachusetts didn’t make it 16.

Bills have been introduced — several of them, in fact — but they haven’t received the requisite attention to gain any traction.

Overall, sports gambling is just not a priority in this state. Should it be? There are plenty of other priorities, certainly, including housing, education, mental health, and childcare. But while tackling them, it seems the state Legislature could find the time and inclination to pass a sports-gambling measure.

The ongoing hesitancy simply doesn’t make sense. And it should not continue.

Opinion

Editorial

State governments are, by and large, clunky and inefficient bodies known for their slow pace, general indecisiveness, and tendency to study rather than act decisively.

Those are generalities, to be sure, but they’re also truisms.

While most all state legislatures share those qualities, the Bay State’s leadership seems to stand out from the rest. There are many recent examples of this — everything from east-west rail to the education bill currently being debated.

And then, there’s casino gambling, and most recently, sports gambling.

For reasons we’ve never fully understood, this state lost a great many years — at least a decade by most accounts — when it came to legalizing casino gambling.

While legislators were debating the relative merits of gaming — and debating them some more — a host of other states were moving forward with facilities and establishing a solid foundation that has made it more difficult for the casinos now operating in the Bay State to achieve the kinds of revenues that were originally projected.

And now, the Legislature, which has shown a propensity in recent years for letting the voters make some of the most difficult decisions through referendum questions, is repeating, and compounding, its mistake on gaming by dragging its feet on sports gambling.

Legislative leaders have expressed interest in the concept, and some project a vote might — that’s might — come before the end of this legislative session. If and when it is approved, by next July, it will be another six to 12 months before someone can actually place a bet on a sports team in Massachusetts.

By then, the state will have lost tens of millions of dollars in needed tax revenues to Rhode Island, New Hampshire (set to launch its own program), and other states that saw the light and decided to take action.

We’re not sure why our Legislature couldn’t do the same thing. Waiting and watching and learning doesn’t seem to make any sense at this point.

Sports gambling is a fact of life in this country. Legalizing it and taking advantage of the revenues would seem to be a no-brainer, especially given the heightened degree of competition within the gaming industry and the need for the state’s casinos to be able to keep pace with its neighbors on every level.

Indeed, the state’s two resort casinos, Encore Boston and MGM Springfield, while off to decent starts, are both turning in gross gaming revenue (GGR) numbers below what they projected, primarily because of lagging slots revenues.

These casinos need a shot in the arm; they need another arrow in the quiver when it comes to bringing people to the doors and giving them more to do when they arrive.

Sports gambling seems like a very attractive ‘something more.’

It should have happened by now. Maybe it will happen soon. The state’s Legislature has a history of waiting, studying, procrastinating — and losing out on opportunities.

It looks like history is repeating itself on sports gambling, and the state is almost certain to lose out again.

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