House lawmakers played déj vu on Beacon Hill as they voted to legalize sports betting for the second time in as many years.
“The time has come to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts,” said Rep. Gerald Pericella, D-Beverly, who chairs the committee on economic development.
The motion was an easy victory in the House, a 156-3 victory – and where it has already won once. Reps. Mike Connolly, Russell Holmes and Erika Uterhoven cast three dissenting votes.
But the fighting line was being drawn even before the vote was cast on Thursday as House Speaker Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, said taking college sports out of the equation would “probably” be a deal-breaker.
Lawmakers have tried – and failed – to pass sports gambling legislation since 2018 when the US Supreme Court in May ruled a nearly nationwide prohibition unconstitutional.
In the last session, the bill died in the Senate. The chamber’s appetite for the measure appears lukewarm with Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, saying the Senate will review the sports betting proposal “as it seeks to address the many important issues facing the Commonwealth.” Continuing his work, which includes COVID-19 recovery, psych. health reform, and meaningful voting reform.”
Lawmakers backed a proposal from Boston Representative Jay Livingstone to bring betting in or near stadiums supported by major sports teams, including the Red Sox.
Livingston proposed an additional license category for retailers to allow fans to place bets in person, adjacent to or half a mile from a sports facility. This would include, if passed, Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.
This would have allowed teams to apply for those licenses.
House lawmakers instead approved a version that sends that motion for study.
Sports betting is a major growth industry across the country. It earned $960 million in the first quarter of 2021, according to the State Gaming Commission report.
Thirty states – including neighboring Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York – have all legalized the sport in some form.
“We are surrounded,” said Pericella. “The time has come for us to legalize sports betting.”
Haverhill Democrat Representative Andres Vargas said more than 30% of Massachusetts residents in the game placed in New Hampshire.
According to Pericella, license fees for three casinos, two race tracks and the nine mobile app operators described in the bill would generate up to $80 million upon their renewal to the state to begin with and again every five years. They will be regulated by the State Gaming Commission.
The state could cash in as much as $60 million to $70 million in annual tax revenue, he said. Personal bets at casino and track retailers will be taxed at 12.5%, with mobile bets costing a little over 15%.