Sports betting will almost certainly become legal in Massachusetts — at some point.
Although exactly when the state will push the legislative button remains unclear, preparations soon could be underway for what likely would be a true game-changer, made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal ban on sports gambling in May.
The state’s three casinos — one already in existence and two forthcoming — are on board with legal sports gambling: Plainridge Park Casino, a slot parlor in Plainridge; MGM Springfield, which is slated to open in late August; and Encore Boston Harbor, a Wynn Resorts-owned complex scheduled to open in Everett next June.
Money, as is often the case, is at the center of everything. States across the United States won’t legalize sports betting until there’s a concrete plan to maximize revenue. And not every state’s rules will necessarily be identical.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, for example, recently signed a $9.6 billion budget that legalizes sports betting and gives the Ocean State 51 percent of revenues from wagers at brick-and-mortar casinos. What the budget didn’t do is legalize online sports betting. But given Rhode Island’s size and unique approach to gambling, it’s probably unwise to expect something similar in Massachusetts.
Citing an Oxford Economics for the American Gaming Association study from last year, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission recently sent a “white paper” to state legislators detailing the numerous factors at play in legalized sports wagering, particularly how different approaches could yield varied revenues.
Per the study, if Massachusetts only allowed sports betting at brick-and-mortar casinos, it would collect $8.6 million in annual tax revenue if it taxed the casinos’ gross gaming revenue at a “low” rate of 6.75 percent. A “high” tax rate of 15 percent would allow the state to collect $15.2 million.
But if the state also allowed sports wagering online and at retail locations — as it currently does for horse racing — it could collect $31.9 million and $61.3 million with the low and high tax rates, respectively, the study asserts.
These figures aren’t final, and what Massachusetts ultimately elects to do might look vastly different than what the study suggests. Still, supporters of legalization say legalizing online/mobile and retail sports betting would be hugely beneficial to the state, and that legalized online/mobile sports gambling could enable states to mitigate the presence of black market sports wagering. Such a black market “significantly” exceeds $100 billion annually in the U.S., according to the commission.
Don’t be surprised if Massachusetts is wary of legalizing online/mobile sports wagering, though.
Online/mobile sports betting discourages gamblers from going to physical casinos to place their bets, something Nevada surely has in mind with its requirement that all online sports betting accounts be initiated at land-based providers. There also are the risks legal online sports gambling poses to states’ abilities to curb gambling addictions.
When reached for comment on the potential risk/rewards of legalized sports betting and its various forms, representatives for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission said they were unable to comment.
Ultimately, the introduction of legal sports betting to Massachusetts seems inevitable. But what form it takes, and whether eager bettors will be rewarded for the patience, remains to be seen.
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