BOSTON — Allowing adults 21 or older to bet on professional sports in person and online in Massachusetts would generate meaningful, but not game-changing, revenue for the state, a key senator said.
"If done correctly, the idea here is to bring sports betting into the daylight, legalize it and, in a real-time way, monitor it so that potential violations or problems can be quickly identified and dealt with," said Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, who chairs the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies for the Senate. "It's really going to be about partnership between these operators and the Gaming Commission to ensure that the whole process is done as safely as possible."
While 25 other states, including neighboring Rhode Island, New Hampshire and New York, have already authorized gamblers to place legal bets on sports, Massachusetts has been considering whether to similarly legalize betting since the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 ruled that the nearly-nationwide prohibition on sports wagering was unconstitutional and gave states the ability to legalize the activity.
"Massachusetts has taken a fairly cautious approach, especially compared to some of our regional peers in the states nearby us," Lesser said. "When it comes to this, I think that that's probably been correct because we've now been able to really learn from what a lot of states, especially states in the Northeast, have done over the last couple of years."
The senator's bill, which is one of about a dozen similar pieces of legislation filed by last week's deadline, would put sports betting under the auspices of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and would create three distinct sports betting license types to allow betting at casinos and the slots parlor, at live horse racing tracks or simulcast centers, and through mobile or online platforms. Bettors would have to be at least 21 years old and be physically present in Massachusetts.
The bill also includes consumer safeguards to protect against problem gambling similar to those provisions put in place for casinos when Massachusetts expanded gaming in 2013. Among those are allowing gamblers to add themselves to an exclusion list and requiring the Gaming Commission to produce regulations around compulsive and problem gambling.
Lesser said one of the key consumer protections is a prohibition on betting with a credit card.
"The vast majority of people are looking to just have some fun — it's a form of recreation to bet on their favorite sports team," he said. "But we do know, of course, that there are people that might have addiction issues, might have problems."
Prop bets — wagers on things other than the outcome of the game, like how many strikeouts a pitcher will record in a given game or which football team will win the opening coin toss — and in-game betting would be allowed under Lesser's bill, but it would require the Gaming Commission to hold a hearing on those types of bets and to put some guardrails on them.
No wagers would be accepted on individual athletes who are using wearable technology or if the wager involves players' personal medical information or biometric data.
"This kind of came to light in conversations with players and with players associations," Lesser said. "For example, it might be soon possible to have a jersey that could transmit somebody's heart rate or pulse, or blood oxygen level in real time to somebody who could then place a bet based on that biometric information. We felt like that was a bridge too far."
The state's casinos and slots parlor — MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor in Everett and Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville — could apply for a Category 1 license that would allow them to offer an in-person sportsbook and take bets through as many as three mobile apps. It would cost at least $1 million to apply, then $2.5 million upon approval of a license and another $1 million every five years as a license renewal fee.
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