Gaming Regulators ‘Preparing’ for Legal Massachusetts Sports Betting

Massachusetts is an unknown when it comes to legal sports betting. Only illegal sportsbooks operate there, but that could soon change – and top Massachusetts gaming regulators say they’ll be ready when the time comes.

“We feel really confident that actually if we were designated a regulator of legalized sports wagering we’d be able to get those regulations in place nimbly, and we’d be able to start issuing licensed to those who are eligible under the new law to start accepting sports bets,” Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said during a sports betting panel discussion on Wednesday led by the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. 

Judd-Stein wouldn’t say when she thinks when that law will pass. A bill to legalize sports betting passed the state House last July, but has yet to be taken up in the Senate.

“Everything is up in the air,” she said. 

But the uncertainty hasn’t stopped the MGC from looking at other states’ sports betting regulations and consumer protections for Massachusetts. 

“Because many of the proposed bills do designate the (MGC) as the potential regulator … we want to be ready. We are preparing,” said Judd-Stein.

Judd-Stein: Legalization Needs To Be Done “Very, Very Thoughtfully”

The MGC chair acknowledged that the Bay State is late to the legal sports betting game. Rhode Island legalized sports betting in 2018, followed by New Hampshire in 2019, and Connecticut in 2021. New York launched in 2019 after legalizing it years earlier. 

Judd-Stein said her personal opinion is a “delay may mean we’re not repatriating those dollars that come with those bets that are being placed” in states like New Hampshire.

But she also credited the Massachusetts legislature with taking the same careful path toward legal sports betting that it took with legalized casino gaming back in 2011.

“That was very thoughtfully done and at the same time provided Massachusetts and the MGC with extraordinary resources so that we get the regulation done right,” she said. “So from my heart I say, stay tuned. And when the Massachusetts legislature decides to legalize sports wagering in Massachusetts it will be done very, very thoughtfully.”

Where Massachusetts Sports Betting Legalization Stands

Two bills, in particular, appear to have the best chance at passage this year. One is the House bill (H. 3993) which has already been passed by the Massachusetts House. The other is S. 269, sponsored by 2022 Lt. Governor candidate and Sen. Eric Lesser. 

No action has been taken on the bills in nine months, although comments made in late March by Senate President Karen Spilka indicate a vote is imminent.

“The intention is to bring it to the floor and debate it on the floor and let the senators decide” pending consensus on the issue, Spilka said in a March 28 press huddle as reported by the State House News Service (SHNS). “Once we have consensus, the intent is to do that very task.”

The two-year legislative session on Beacon Hill is scheduled to end on July 31. 

About the Author

Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments at Massachusetts Casinos. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, she has been known to watch UK basketball from time to time.