With thousands of fans getting ready to settle into their couches this weekend for the NFL playoffs, one state senator has a proposal ready to make sports betting legal in Massachusetts, eight months after the Supreme Court opened the doors for states to enter the sports gambling market.
Sen. Brendan Crighton, a Lynn Democrat, is getting ready to file a bill that would allow Bay State casinos and online, mobile platforms like DraftKings to apply for licenses to operate sports books for Massachusetts bettors.
Crighton's bill would be among the first to be filed on the topic since the Supreme Court ruled this last May that the ban on sports betting outside of Nevada and select other places was unconstitutional. The bill would allow betting on all professional sports and college sports outside of Massachusetts.
Gov. Charlie Baker is also believed by some in the industry and on Beacon Hill to be working on a proposal that he could reveal soon, and Rep. Dan Cullinaneof Boston has filed a separate sports betting regulation bill in the House to start the new two-year session.
"I think when the Supreme Court decision was issued last summer I think I said that we were going to take a good look at our options and if appropriate work with our colleagues in the Legislature on that one going forward and that's still our position," Baker said when asked about the issue Tuesday.
Crighton picked up the issue from former Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who had worked on daily fantasy sports betting before leaving the Legislature to become the city manager of Lowell. When the Supreme Court issued its ruling, Crighton said he dove into the topic and began meeting with stakeholders.
"From those conversations, we came up with what we think is a bill that will take sports betting out of the shadows, but provide responsible consumer protections and still maintain the integrity of the sports we all like to watch," Crighton said.
Under Crighton's bill, the Gaming Commission would be put in charge of licensing sport betting operators, and the pool of applicants would be limited to current casino licensees like MGM Springfield (NYSE: MGM) and Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN), simulcast racing licensees like Suffolk Downs or mobile platforms like DraftKings and FanDuel.
Existing gaming licensees would pay a $500,000 application fee, while mobile platforms would have to pay $1 million for the application. The bill would also apply a 12.5 percent tax to sport betting profits. Crighton said that while the revenue estimates are "a little hazy," sports books tend to operate at small profit margins and the projections for state revenues are between $50 million and $70 million a year.
Eight states, including Rhode Island, currently have legal sports betting, while bills have either passed or been introduced in dozens of other states, according to ESPN.
"Every day there are new legislatures out there filing bills and considering things so really it's time for us to be deliberate but also have a sense of urgency to get something passed this session," Crighton said.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, after the court ruling, said he didn't want to rush into anything last session, but asked his Economic Development Committee Chairman Rep. Joseph Wagner to begin looking into it. Wagner said last year he hoped to have something ready for the Legislature to consider by early 2019.
Crighton said he didn't work with anyone in the House in developing his bill.
"We expect there to be robust debate," Crighton said.
The prohibition on betting on Bay State collegiate sports, Crighton said, came about because colleges and universities expressed concern about their ability to protect the integrity of the game.
"We heard some concerns from institutions of higher education, in terms of the integrity of their sports. They're not the billion dollar operations that professional sports leagues are. They're paid athletes. So we kept Massachusetts college teams exempt. You can't bet on a Massachusetts college team," Crighton said.
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.
The bill Crighton will file by the end of this week also appears to differ in some key ways from Cullinane's bill in the House.
Cullinane's bill would allow sports leagues to collect a fee of one-quarter of one percent on the total handle bet on games in Massachusetts, while Crighton rejected the idea of the fees that professional sports leagues have requested here and in other states.
Crighton also said he felt it was important to let mobile platforms like DraftKings operate separately from casinos, while Cullinane and other states have opted to require mobile platforms to be tethered to gaming establishments.
"We certainly see that as the future of gaming and if we are going to bring people into legalized sport betting and off of these illegal platforms, we're going to need to have that component," Crighton said.
As for this Sunday, betting will still be illegal in Massachusetts. But if he could, Crighton would take the Patriots over the Kansas City Chiefs for the right to play in the Super Bowl.
"I've bet in the past. I do like the underdog in Kansas City this weekend," Crighton said.
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