It’s time to make sports betting a sure thing

Will this be the year state lawmakers finally legalize sports betting?

State Sen. Brendan Crighton believes the odds may have finally shifted in its favor.

The Lynn Democrat’s updated version of his previous sports-betting proposal includes a higher tax rate and a significant increase in licensing fees that he said will generate needed revenue for Massachusetts even before a wager is placed.

He feels there’s reason to believe the Senate will seriously consider passage this session, despite leadership’s indifference over the past two years.

Senate members of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies abstained in the last session from voting to advance a sports betting bill drafted by that panel, and Senate leaders likewise passed on a House-backed sports wagering proposal tacked on to a major economic development bill in July.

“Sports betting is alive and well in Massachusetts, but unfortunately we’re letting money go down the drain to the black market and states that have legalized,” Crighton said.

A jump-start is clearly what this proposal needs.

Even a full-court press via a letter signed by all five major Massachusetts professional sports teams, gaming companies and a powerful labor union last November couldn’t persuade the Legislature to act.

Absent an agreement at the time on a tax rate or structure for wagers, that group estimated Massachusetts could pull in about $50 million a year from sports betting. Gov. Charlie Baker has previously estimated annual revenue of $35 million, while the House estimated revenue of about $20 million.

Sen. Eric Lesser, who last session co-chaired the committee that studied sports betting, plans to file his own bill in the coming weeks.

Legalized sports betting currently operates in the District of Columbia and 19 states, including New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Crighton’s latest bill would create an opportunity for the state’s two casinos in Everett and Springfield, the slots parlor in Plainville, horse-racing license holders and mobile platforms like the Boston-based DraftKings to host in-person and online sports betting.

Should thoroughbred racing return to Massachusetts, tracks would also be eligible to join the industry, which would be regulated and overseen by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Prospective license holders would need to pony up a $10 million licensing fee, up from a high of $1 million in Crighton’s original bill; the tax rate also would increase to 15%, an increase over Crighton’s originally proposed 12.5%.

Crighton’s bill would allow betting on professional and college sports, but not on in-state collegiate teams.

Some other bills filed last session, including one by Gov. Baker, excluded college sports, but Baker recently told the State House News Service he’d accept a framework that included betting on college sports because it’s already happening in neighboring states.

House Speaker Ron Mariano, who blamed the Senate for the failure to legalize sports betting last year, has promised to bring up the issue early in the new legislative session.

Massachusetts can’t continue to sit on the sidelines and watch neighboring states siphon wagering tax dollars that this state vitally needs in this COVID-created, revenue-challenged environment.

Without legislative action, you can bet those receipts will continue to flow into New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.

That’s not a gamble; it’s a sure thing.

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