As with many legislative issues that have even a modicum of controversy attached, there’s a tortoise-and-hare dynamic at play with sports betting legalization (and subsequent readiness for implementation).
Some jurisdictions — West Virginia, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, for example — threw on their FitBits over the last several months, hitting the ground running by passing legislation. Numerous others are milling around the starting blocks, trying to get to consensus on pending bills in their respective statehouses.
New Jersey, of course, has been the pacesetter all along. They were out running gassers long before the crack of dawn, first attempting to partly repeal their sports betting ban in 2011.
Massachusetts once again taking deliberate tack
And then there’s the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which looks to be on Team Slow and Steady. Much as it did with daily fantasy sports (DFS) back in 2015-16, the Bay State is taking a deliberate approach to studying how a legalized sports betting environment would impact their area, from both sides of the equation.
The path being taken is similar in many ways.
With DFS, a white paper was eventually produced by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission shortly before Attorney General Maura Healy issued some short-term regulations for the industry in January 2016.
That step was preceded by:
- A hearing on DFS facilitated by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) in late October 2015
- A day-long DFS Educational Forum in December of that year.
On the sports betting end of things, the MGC made a triumphant return March 1 with — to no one’s surprise — a 29-page white paper that was fairly exhaustive in terms of covering different angles of the industry.
Much like with DFS, the report was preceded by other notable and related events. In this case, it’s primarily a bill that’s been in deliberation since late January.
Although it tackles DFS regulation as well, the salient portion of the proposed legislation with respect to sports betting calls for the formation an eight-member commission to:
- Thoroughly study the industry, including the online sports betting segment, and delve into aspects such as “economic development, consumer protection, taxation, legal and regulatory structures, burdens and benefits to the commonwealth and any other factors the commission deems relevant”.
- Submit a report to the MGC within 120 days of a SCOTUS decision in Murphy vs. NCAA that strikes down PASPA.
Massachusetts sports betting likely in future
The feeling here is that Massachusetts will eventually jump right into the sports betting fray if there’s a favorable SCOTUS decision, all of their “due diligence” — aka legislative foreplay — notwithstanding.
A clue appears fairly early on in the white paper. The document notes that the state’s Expanded Gaming Act of 2011 — which allowed for three resort casinos and a slots-only casino in separate areas — came into being precisely because gaming dollars had been headed to neighboring states for far too long.
Massachusetts would be poised to be shut out of the Cool Kids’ table once again — this time on the sports betting end — if PASPA is struck down and they simply stand pat.
- New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and West Virginia would all potentially be ready roll with their sports betting markets quickly.
- Delaware is already one of the few places outside of Nevada where sports betting exists already, albeit in non-single-game form at present.
- Moreover, nearby Maryland and Rhode Island are currently deliberating bills that could quickly come to fruition with the impetus that a favorable PASPA decision would offer.
A DFS-related X-Factor
There’s yet another, less obvious angle that points toward an eventual legalized sports wagering environment in Massachusetts. And there’s a DFS tie-in.
Industry leader DraftKings was founded in the state in 2012. Although it’s expanded its reach to multiple cities (and countries) over the years, it remains headquartered in Boston. In fact, it just announced a move to more expansive offices in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood this past January.
However, they made exponentially more waves with another revelation shortly thereafter. After months of speculation – some of it fueled by the company itself – DraftKings provided the most tangible evidence yet it plans to make a splash in a future legalized sports betting environment when it named its first Head of Sportsbook.
That hire, Sean Hurley, will be based out one of those new DraftKings satellite locations in Hoboken, New Jersey. However, that’s relatively irrelevant in this context. The bigger picture is that it’s highly unlikely that Massachusetts would be left on the outside looking in while one of its homegrown successes initiates a momentous new chapter in its evolution.