Several Western Massachusetts legislators seek to make it easier to place a bet among friends.
Newly-elected state Sen. Adam Gomez and Rep. Orlando Ramos, both of Springfield, introduced legislation to support small businesses within the push for legalized sports betting in Massachusetts.
In addition to licensing casinos and online platforms to accept bets, it would allow bars and restaurants to offer sports betting as well.
“For me, it became a no-brainer – why shouldn’t an adult who is patronizing a local sports restaurant have the opportunity to bet $25 legally and safely on the Celtics,” Gomez said. “We want to ensure that sports wagering can occur fairly and legally where every business interested can have a seat at the table. This legislation will increase our state’s competitiveness and will capture revenues that are currently being enjoyed by our neighboring states where sports betting has been legalized.”
Identical versions of An Act authorizing and regulating sports wagering were filed in the state Senate and House of Representatives. State Sen. John Velis, of Westfield, co-sponsored the Senate bill and helped draft the language of the bill.
“Considering all of the challenges that bars and restaurants and other small businesses have been going through with this pandemic, it was important to me that they were included in this bill,” Ramos said. “I think we also have to make sure that minority-owned businesses have an opportunity to succeed in this new industry which is why we included explicit language for diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Support has grown in Massachusetts for a legalized sports betting market with it expected to be a focus of the 2021-22 legislative session. Already, multiple bills on the matter have been filed.
A sports betting provision was proposed in the $627 million economic development bill last month but it was taken out at the last minute for fear the COVID relief provisions would be held up by opposition to the gaming initiative.
Sports betting remains illegal in Massachusetts while it has been legalized in recent years in more than a dozen states, including neighboring New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.
The pandemic hit Massachusetts’ still young gaming industry hard.
In months after their forced closure in March, MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor and Plainridge Park Casino reported record-low revenues and turned to cost-cutting measures.
“Our properties are effectively generating no revenue,” MGM officials wrote in a report on the first quarter of 2020 shared in April with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
“The spread of COVID-19 and developments surrounding the global pandemic have had, and we expect will continue to have, a significant impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition,” the company stated.
The Springfield casino reopened under strict restrictions in July with 800 employees – down drastically from its pre-pandemic employment of 2,000.
Experts say sports betting will be key for Massachusetts’ casinos going forward.
“If they don’t get sports gambling at the casino or online, I don’t see much of a future,” Richard McGowan, a professor in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College who studies the gambling and casino industries, told The Republican. “They are in way too much debt. The future of gambling looks like it’s online. What will make or break MGM Springfield is what the Massachusetts Legislature decides to do with sports gambling.”
MGM previously told MassLive that if Massachusetts legalized sports betting, it could set up an operation in a matter of weeks.