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Connecticut And Massachusetts Are Racing Towards Legal Sports Betting

Connecticut and Massachusetts are among the best candidates to legalize sports betting in 2021. Depending on who you talk to, either of the two neighboring states could be the odds-on favorite. Both states have plenty of reasons to pass legislation, but both also possess many potential stumbling blocks.

That has industry observers hanging on every scrap of news and dissecting every minor update coming out of both states. Not surprisingly, when it comes to which domino might fall first, we’ve seen several lead changes between Massachusetts and Connecticut over the first six weeks of 2021.

The latest news has Connecticut pulling away, but this is still anyone’s race to win, and at the end of the day, both states could very well cross the finish line or stumble and fall.

Here’s the latest from both locales.

Connecticut Is Eyeing Sports Betting and Online Gambling

A “nutmeg” refers to passing (to oneself) or scoring between an opponent’s legs in sports terminology. Falling victim to a nutmeg can be slightly embarrassing, but it’s the unexpectedness of it that makes it a crowd favorite. Connecticut, also known as the Nutmeg State (for non-sporting reasons), pulled off the unexpected when it went all-in on gambling expansion in December.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont appears to be fully on board with legal sports betting and online gambling. In a transcript of a recorded message detailing his budget proposal, Lamont said the following about expanded gambling in Connecticut:

“Our neighboring states are moving forward with sports betting and igaming, and Connecticut should not leave these opportunities for other states to benefit from our inaction. My administration has been in active negotiations with our tribal partners to bring the state’s gaming economy into the digital age. And I am submitting legislation which reflects what I believe to be the best bet in ending this stalemate of inaction in a way which is in the best interest for the entire state.”

The governor’s legislation lines up nicely with a bill filed in January. Both would give the office the authority to amend tribal compacts and memorandum of understanding to include sports betting, esports, daily fantasy sports, online casino games, and online keno. The legislation also covers the regulation and taxation of these offerings. All of these modifications are subject to federal approval.

At first glance, the governor’s remarks and legislation appear to push the state’s off-track betting parlors to the side, focusing entirely on the state’s two gaming tribes. It will be interesting to see if the OTBs and its supplier, Sportech, can be so easily steamrolled

Massachusetts Is Making Slow and Steady Progress

Massachusetts has multiple sports betting proposals on the table, with more on the way:

  • HD 118 and 119, introduced by State Rep. Bradford Hill
  • SD 192, introduced by State Sen. Michael Brady
  • SD 177, introduced by State Sen. Brendan Crighton
  • HD 678, introduced by Gov. Charlie Baker

The good news is the key points of these proposals are quite similar. The bad news is the differences are more than enough to derail sports betting legalization. From whom is eligible to receive a license to what forms of events are prohibited to official league data requirements, there is still a lot that needs to be ironed out in Massachusetts.

Furthermore, stakeholders haven’t gotten into the nitty-gritty details, which is the point in the legislative process that bills tend to land in the scrap heap.

One of the non-structural issues will inevitably Massachusetts politics. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, hasn’t been shy about using his veto pen against the legislature, where Democrats have super-majorities.

And despite a super-majority, there are many different perspectives regarding how, or even if, sports betting should go down. That provides Baker with a lot of sway in the process, as a veto override is far from guaranteed.

Still, Massachusetts has been traveling on the sports betting train for multiple years, and 2021 seems like the state’s best opportunity to disembark at its port-of-call.

Not only is the Bay State in desperate need of revenue, but modernizing gambling has been a talking point for several years (I wouldn’t be surprised to see online lottery attached to a sports betting bill). And with legalization in Connecticut looking more and more likely, Massachusetts is becoming surrounded by sports betting states.

As Colin A. Young of State House News Service recently wrote, “After almost three years of studying and debating the issue, key legislators have signaled that they will be ready this session to debate sports betting in earnest.”

Of course, there’s a reason the state has nothing to show for those three years of efforts. It’s a far more complex issue than people realize. 

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