The state had been a leading candidate to join the ranks of online gambling states in 2017. But based on recent comments by Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg, it looks like the efforts to legalize online gambling and/or take the lottery online will have to wait until next year.
“Online lottery and online gaming are both issues that are being reviewed now to try to figure out how we manage the situation so we don’t hurt the lottery,” Rosenberg said in an interview on Boston Herald Radio, according to Statehouse News Service (paywall), “and in the case of online gaming, that we don’t hurt the casino industry we’re building in Massachusetts.”
Rosenberg went on to say action on either front in 2017 looks unlikely. However, he didn’t rule out 2018, noting he expects research on both topics by the end of the year.
“We could potentially act next year, potentially,” Rosenberg said.
As is always the case, lawmakers cite cannibalization of current gaming revenue as the reason for legislative prudence. However, there remains no credible evidence of online gambling having a negative impact on brick-and-mortar gaming.
This negative-skewing talk is much to the chagrin of State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who has been pushing the legislature to act on this issue.
At an April 25 meeting, Goldberg cautioned inaction could lead to a loss of opportunity.
“My feeling is we have an opportunity, and sometimes it takes others longer to figure out what that opportunity is,” Goldberg said. “I just hope that opportunity doesn’t get blocked and we’re boxed out by other competition, and I think that’s the issue.”
Goldberg and other online proponents see online sales not as a replacement to traditional lottery retailers. Rather, it would be a modernization, a way to ensure the lottery continues to thrive as player behaviors evolve.
The legislature’s inaction is a setback for online lottery in Massachusetts. An online lottery bill passed the Senate in 2016 before coming up short in the House last summer. This year was supposed to build upon 2016’s momentum, but we’ve seen regression instead.
This has some officials scratching their heads.
Lottery Commissioner Anthony Salvidio was quite blunt during the April 28 hearing. “What is it going to take for legislators to realize this, a complete collapse of the revenue of the Lottery before they get on this?” he asked.
The legislature is in no rush to act, and it is reviewing both issues. In legislative-speak, a review essentially means the issue is on hold.
Online gambling is being discussed alongside daily fantasy sports by a special commission tasked with making recommendations to the legislature by July 31. The commission’s recommendations will likely come too late for the legislature to act on them this year.