The Longmeadow Democrat says he believes the state has taken a “cautious approach” to sports betting and that the legislation, which would allow both in-person and mobile betting, could generate significant revenue for the Commonwealth.
Lesser spoke with Zydalis Bauer about his reasons for putting forth the bill.
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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: While casino gambling has been legal now in Massachusetts for some time, legalized sports betting has not. And State Senator Eric Lesser has recently introduced legislation to change that.
The Longmeadow Democrat has said that he thinks that the state has taken a cautious approach to sports betting and believes that the legislation, which would allow both in-person and mobile betting, could generate significant revenue for the state. He spoke with me earlier today about his reasons for putting forth the bill.
Sen. Eric Lesser, (D — Longmeadow): It would create a legal betting market for sports wagering in Massachusetts. It would create two different types of licenses. A brick and mortar license, so people would be able to go, for example, to their local casino or their local horse track and place bets.
It would also create a mobile licensing program so people could use online betting programs, for example, Draft Kings and FanDuel are some of the most well-known. But there are a lot of other ones out there as well, and they could be able to place bets on their sports teams through that means as well.
Zydalis Bauer: You mentioned in your press conference that Massachusetts has taken a fairly cautious approach when it comes to this legislature. How so? And how does the bill reflect this approach?
Sen. Eric Lesser: The Supreme Court actually opened the door to legal sports betting about three years ago. Almost three years ago. They invalidated a federal prohibition on sports betting that had been in place for several decades. What you saw was several states, in particular New Jersey, react very quickly after that Supreme Court decision.
At this point, there’s about twenty five states that have some form of legal wagering. Massachusetts was not one of the first states to operate, to move into legalization. And I think that was probably the right move for us because we’ve been able to learn a lot.
We’ve been able to see what’s worked and what hasn’t in New Jersey, for example, and two of our neighboring states, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, also legalized recently. And we’ve been able to see, for example, some things that have worked well in New Hampshire and Rhode Island and some things that also probably needed some improvement.
Zydalis Bauer: In Governor Baker’s budget that was released last month, he estimated that 35 million dollars in revenue can possibly be generated through this bill. In addition to this added benefit, in what other ways could this bill impact the Commonwealth?
Sen. Eric Lesser, (D — Longmeadow): Yeah, well, so first, you know, I think it’s worth saying that there’s a lot of people that just, this is fun. You know, this is a recreational activity. People want to place a bet on the Red Sox or the Patriots. Vast majority of people that are doing this are doing it in a safe way, in a fun way with limits.
But we do have cases, of course, of problem gambling. We do have cases of addiction or people that are maybe getting in over their heads. So, we really craft this law to be very careful, to have very strict protections in place. So, for example, you would not be allowed to use a credit card. Nobody under 21. There would be self-exclusion limits. There would be reporting requirements so that if somebody is doing something in an addictive way or something feels off, the Gaming Commission would be able to quickly intervene and stop that.
I think something also that’s very important about this is it’s going to close a broad illegal betting market. People are placing bets, you know, in illegal ways or through off market or or black market sites. We would close those sites by doing this. We would bring this practice kind of into the daylight and we would be able to collect revenue from it and make sure it’s safe.
Zydalis Bauert: Now, regarding the amount of revenue that legalized sports betting could bring into the state, you said, quote, “It’s not going to be a panacea to the state’s budget issues and it’s certainly not going to be something you can balance the state’s budget on.”
So ,to the opponents of this bill, who would argue that the revenue amounts are not worth the possible negative impacts to the state, what would you say to address their concerns?
Sen. Eric Lesser: Yeah, so I think that the bill I put together does address the concern. If passed, would be the strongest consumer protections and protections of any bill of its kind anywhere in the country. And again, to just point out, you know, twenty five states have now done some form of sports betting legalization, including almost all of our neighbors. So we’re going to be able we’ve been able to learn from that and make this very strict.
So just for example, I mentioned no credit cards. I mentioned you’d have to be over 21. We’re also including strict limits around marketing. You would not be able to target children with your marketing or anybody under 21.
We also create a new whistleblower protection for athletes. This is something the players associations and the players themselves have come to us and said that they wanted. So, this would mean if a player or a coach or a family member wanted to report something or wanted to tip off the Gaming Commission about activity that they thought was suspicious, they’d be able to do that while being protected. We also set up a hotline for people to call again, players, coaches, staff members, fans, family members that they can call to get advice, to ask questions about what might be permitted and what might not be permitted.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, other bills attempting to legalize sports betting have failed to pass in the State Senate before. How confident are you that this bill will pass?
Sen. Eric Lesser: Well, you know, confidence doesn’t necessarily go all that far in politics, so it’s not up to me. You know, there’s thirty nine other members of the Senate. There’s 160 members of the House. So a process is going to be — has already begun, will continue to move forward of talking to our colleagues and building support.
I do think people are coming to the realization and coming to the acknowledgment that this is the time to act on sports betting. As we come out of the pandemic and hopefully start to move towards more normalcy, I do think an issue like this, sports betting is going to be something that legislators will be able to focus on. So, I do think that it is coming and I do think people are acknowledging that now is the time to get started.