House Speaker Robert DeLeo all but dashed the dreams of sports betting enthusiasts hoping that Massachusetts lawmakers might move quickly to capitalize on the newly legal industry, indicating Wednesday that he intended to take his time making a decision on whether to embrace sports gambling.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week dropped the issue in the laps of state legislatures around the country when it ruled that the federal ban on sport betting outside of Nevada and select other places was unconstitutional. Anticipating the court's decision, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have already enacted legislation to either legalize sports betting or allow the development of sports betting regulations,
But with two months left on the formal lawmaking calendar in Massachusetts, DeLeo is taking a go-slow approach. He said it would be "difficult" to see the House taking up a bill this session, and it's not a decision he wants to rush into.
"I think that there are so many questions that have to be answered and I think that right now for us to be able to expect to do this within the last two months of session, I'm not saying we're not going to talk about it, we're going continue to try to come to some type of an answer yes or no, but what I'm saying is I think it would be very, very difficult," DeLeo told reporters outside of a Democratic caucus.
DeLeo and House co-chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Rep. Joseph Wagner have had initial discussions about sports betting, the two men said, but were in agreement that they should take their time.
DeLeo, who has expressed concerns about preserving the "integrity" of professional and college sports, said he has heard a range of opinions from constituents and is only beginning to understand all the facets of sports betting that would have to be considered if it were to be legalized in Massachusetts, including whether to allow online betting and how to approach minors.
"The more we talk about it, the more questions that we get and with that, I think that if we're going to do it I think we have to do it as best we can and try to get it right the first time and if that takes a little bit longer for us to get to that point, to do it correctly, then I think that's the way we ought to do it," DeLeo said.
Rep. Joseph Wagner, a Chicopee Democrat and the co-chair of the Economic Development Committee, also pointed to comments made by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the league might like to see the federal government give states some guidance on how to regulate sports betting.
"While we might elevate it in terms of where it may be in the queue, the speaker's correct. It's going to take a period of time to do a deep dive," Wagner said.
Wagner mentioned watching a recent hockey game with someone who appeared to have placed a wager on the outcome of a face-off during the game. "If you look at betting today, there's a lot to it," he said.
Wagner worked on the law that legalized casinos and slots betting in Massachusetts, and DeLeo said he would "imagine" Wagner would be the "natural person to lead the charge" for the House to look into sport betting.
"I think we ought to listen to all sides, pro and cons, and again come up with a piece of legislation that we can all be proud of and support, that's again if we even decide to take that step," the speaker said.
While DeLeo noted that Massachusetts doesn't want to fall too far behind other states that might begin to capture a new revenue source from legal sports gambling, he also said he doesn't regret not having started the review process sooner, in anticipation of the court ruling.
"With the many issues that we're dealing with right now for us to be dealing with a hypothetical and not knowing what's going to happen, as Joe had mentioned, we need to probably get some further answers from the federal government as well. Are they going to step in? Are they going to mandate something on the states? So, not at all," he said.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has estimated that sports betting could generate between $9 million and $61 million in state tax revenue a year, depending on the tax rate.
"There's estimates that there's a hundred billion to four hundred billion dollars of illegal or illicit activity going on on sports betting around the world," Red Sox President Sam Kennedy told New England Sports Network in a televised interview Sunday afternoon.
Wagner said Massachusetts may be able to learn something from the states that take the early plunge.
"It's more important to get it right than to do it quickly and I think only time will tell if states who have already taken an action will in fact have gotten it right," Wagner said.