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Massachusetts Senate legalizes sports betting, excludes college sports

Sports betting bill
TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Mass. Senate passed a bill April 28 to legalize and regulate professional sports betting, which will also prohibit sports betting at the collegiate level. AMANDA CUCCINIELLO/DFP STAFF

By Fiona Broadie and Yoko Zhu

The Massachusetts Senate passed a new bill on April 28 that would legalize and regulate sports betting at the professional level, but would prohibit betting on college sports.

This bill resembles a sports betting bill the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed last year — which allowed college sports betting but banned “prop bets” or wagers on individual athletes.

The intention behind the April 28 bill was to cut down on unregulated and illegal bookmaking, said Marlene Warner, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health.

“Sports betting is alive and well in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, even though it’s not legal,” Warner said. “And that’s one of the reasons the Commonwealth wants to legalize it is that you bring it out of the darkness into the light — and then you start regulating it.”

Despite the bill prohibiting college sports betting, there is still a large market for gambling at the collegiate level, Warner said.

“There’s no Ohio-State-like comparison here in Massachusetts, but we do know that a lot of people enjoy betting on March Madness or college football,” Warner said.

Due to the undue burden that sports betting places on student-athletes, Warner said university presidents and state lawmakers agreed to prohibit it.

“When you start to say an 18-year-old is a commodity that needs to be gambled on, it starts to raise all kinds of concerns,” she said. 

Still, some argue that without college sports betting, the bill does not make fiscal sense, Warner said. 

“Enough money won’t come in because March Madness is a really, really big time,” Warner said. “Betting on college football tends to be incredibly popular.”

If the legislation passes, the bill is estimated to generate $35 million in tax revenue for the state.

The bill places an emphasis on consumer safety and seeks to afford protection to those who struggle with gambling addiction, according to a press release from Massachusetts Democratic Senator Jason M. Lewis. 

“The Senate’s bill will enable Massachusetts to join the majority of other states in permitting legal sports gambling, but ensure that our state has very strong consumer protections and seeks to prevent and mitigate problem gambling and addiction as much as possible,” Lewis stated.

Those who have a gambling addiction will be able to make use of a “compulsive gambling direct assistance program” which provides counseling, treatment and direct or indirect financial recovery, among other benefits, the bill states.

“Massachusetts has been a leader in problem gambling resources and responsible gambling efforts and tools,” Warner said. 

The future of the bill lies in the hands of House and Senate negotiators, who must reconcile their differences between a bill passed by the House last year and the one passed by the Senate. 

“How do we come together and create one consolidated bill that everyone can agree on? It will likely take them until July,” Warner said.

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