BOSTON — Massachusetts missed the boat two years ago when sports betting was legalized, but the state might still get in on the action.

An economic development proposal working its way through Beacon Hill would authorize sports betting and establish a system to tax and regulate the industry. It's the latest push to offer sports wagering in the state, with similar bills stuck in legislative committees as the two-year session winds down.

Rep. Ann Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, said legalizing sports betting will tamp down illegal gambling and provide much needed funds for the state.

"It raises revenue at a critical time here in our state as we face an economic crisis," Ferrante, House co-chair of the Legislature's Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said in remarks on the House floor Monday. "With the revenue generated, it helps us bring that opportunity to minority communities who have lacked that ability and investment to succeed economically."

Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, also supports the move and points out that Massachusetts residents are already betting on sports in places where it's been legalized.

"This is way overdue," he said. "People want this kind of gaming in the state. They're betting right now in New Hampshire and Rhode Island."

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, were among those who filed amendments authorizing sports wagering to the Senate's version of the economic development bill. That proposal was still being debated Wednesday night.

Lawmakers debated similar proposals in the previous legislative session, but those didn't win final approval.

The effort has broad support from legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Baker, who filed his own sports wagering proposal last year.

In a joint statement, DraftKings, FanDuel, MGM Springfield and the Boston Red Sox said legalizing sports wagering will "protect consumers, create jobs and bring an infusion of tens of millions of dollars in much needed revenues to the commonwealth."

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law barring sports gambling in nearly all states except Nevada, paving the way for wagers on games. The case involved New Jersey, which fought for years to allow sports gambling at casinos and racetracks.

Since then, at least 22 states including Washington, D.C. have passed sports waging laws.

Treasurer Deb Goldberg and other state officials have expressed concerns about how sports betting will affect the casino industry and a Lottery that collects more than $5 billion a year.

The House version of the bill would authorize the Lottery to offer some of its products online. A similar proposal was being considered by the Senate on Wednesday."An online Lottery in Massachusetts is not just a matter of convenience," Goldberg said in a statement. "It is a necessity in order to uphold our commitment to supply reliable local aid to our cities and towns and to avoid layoffs for teachers and first responders."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

 

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