If Massachusetts online lottery bills fail to advance from joint committee tomorrow, the effort is dead until the next legislative session

Massachusetts Online Lottery Bills Need A Groundhog Day Miracle To Keep The Effort Alive

Massachusetts has online lottery bills in the works, despite the state’s difficult history when it comes to gambling expansion.

Massachusetts is surrounded on all sides – minus Vermont – by states that have already legalized online lotteries. If this proposed gambling legislation gets anywhere, it will probably be thanks to the Bay State feeling pressure from its neighbors.

That’s a big “if,” however. Tomorrow is the deadline for legislation to make it out of joint committees, which it needs to do in order to have any chance of becoming law this year. Though many of the state’s 7 million citizens are surely eager for online lottery options, lawmakers have to contend with the baggage of years of negative news and gambling studies with problematic findings.

What happens on Groundhog Day will determine whether proposed legislation makes it out of committee. In a rule particular to Massachusetts, the first Wednesday in February of the second annual session of the legislature is known as the Joint Rule 10 deadline. If the iLottery bills don’t leave the joint committee studying them, the bill’s proponents will have to reintroduce it in the next legislative session.

UPDATE: 02/02/2022

The 2023-2024 Massachusetts Legislature will need to determine whether to introduce an online lottery bill, because the one from this session is effectively dead.

On Feb. 2, SB 203, didn’t move along for a vote. It stayed in “study” status within the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

Groundhog Day was the Joint Rule 10 deadline to move bills out of the committees in which they’re being studied. That would’ve meant lawmakers could’ve considered legalizing an iLottery in Massachusetts during 2022.

That didn’t happen.

iLottery bills a year in the making

In February 2021, Sen. Paul R. Feeney, D-Foxboro, filed SB 203. It and proposed legislation with the same wording, HB 36, call for the establishment of an iLottery.

Those and another measure, HB 316, introduced by Rep. Daniel Cahill, D-Lynn, stalled in the same virtual hearing.

In June 2021, the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure heard the online lottery proposals.

Despite being introduced last year and stalling in committee, the bills are still listed as “current.” However, they weren’t on the agenda for the most recent meeting, held on Jan. 10, 2022.

Feeney and Cahill’s offices didn’t provide comments to OPR for this article. The proposal in the House is sponsored by the state treasurer’s office.

Online lottery has foes

During that June 2021 hearing, lottery retailers pushed for the status quo. The land-based ticket sellers told legislators lottery sales were helping keep them in business during the pandemic. This is according to PlayMA, part of the same network as Online Poker Report.

Those retailers probably did believe they had a lot to lose.

An online lottery would likely be successful in Massachusetts, considering its residents spend the most in the nation on tickets. Bay Staters spend $933.33 a year on lottery tickets, according to a study published in July 2020. That GOBankingRates research found Massachusettsan expenditures totaled more than three times the spend of the average American, which was $288.06.

Online casino has allies

Meanwhile on Jan. 19, BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt said retail casinos have become allies of online casino operators. When states consider online casino legislation, retail casino owners have stopped objecting, because they’ve seen that online gambling adds to their bottom lines.

Land-based casino owners used to worry that US online casino legalization would cannibalize their revenue.

Meanwhile in May 2021, Encore Boston Harbor featured heavily in the Wynn Interactive Investor Presentation. Wynn Interactive houses WynnBET Casino and the associated online sportsbook.

The presentation talked at length about how WynnBET Sportsbook would have a “home court advantage” because the 208,000-square-foot Wynn Resorts property is “located in the most sports-crazed city in the US.” Once Massachusetts legalized online and retail sports betting, it would generate $850 million in gross gaming revenue (GGR) each year, according to the presentation.

So at least one retail casino owner advocated online sportsbook launch in the Bay State. However, the Senate hasn’t yet acted on sports betting legislation the House passed in July 2021. OPR sister site Legal Sports Report believes HB 3977 may have the best chance of passing in 2022, and the proposed legislation includes online and retail sports betting.

Now, Wynn Interactive is for sale for $500 million.

Even as Wynn waited for Massachusetts to legalize sports betting, border state Connecticut launched its online casino gambling and sports betting marketplace. Nutmeggers will also soon have an iLottery and online poker is legal.

New Hampshire and Rhode Island already accepted mobile sports bets and on Jan. 8, western neighbor New York did the same.

Only Vermont remains in the same sans-sports betting boat as Massachusetts.

Bay State gambling history

Perhaps the slow pace of online lottery legalization in Massachusetts is understandable.

Ever since it joined the ranks of retail casino states in 2011, it’s had its woes.

As OPR reported in May 2019:

“First there was the failed 2014 repeal referendum.

“There’s the ongoing investigation of Wynn Resorts stemming from alleged sexual assaults by former CEO Steve Wynn.

“And the on-again off-again First Light tribal casino.

“Throw in a handful of active lawsuits; accusations of malfeasance by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that resulted in MGC chairman Stephen Crosby’s resignation in September 2018;, and underwhelming revenue at MGM Springfield, and it’s easy to see why headline readers would conclude gambling expansion has been a nightmare in the Bay State.”

It’s a state that could sorely use some good news when it comes to gambling. Will tomorrow be the day, or is online lottery too big a lift in 2022?

- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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