BOSTON – State Sen. John C. Velis June 17 joined colleagues state Sen. Adam Gomez and state Rep. Orlando Ramos, along with West Springfield Mayor Will Reichelt, in speaking in favor of a bill to allow sports betting in restaurants, bars and clubs.
The bill, “An Act Authorizing and Regulating Sports Wagering,” allows bars and restaurants a seat at the table typically occupied by larger companies and stakeholders. Velis said in light of the pandemic, this could allow small establishments a way to recoup losses and remain in business.
“I don’t have to tell you that the bar, restaurant, and private club industry has been absolutely ravaged by COVID-19. This is a simple way to help these businesses out and capture unrealized revenue from ‘casual bettors’ who may not want to download an app or go to a casino to place a bet,” said Velis in a written statement. “I cannot remember a time when I asked a bar or restaurant owner about this possibility and they did not think it was a good idea. It’s exactly for this reason that the Massachusetts Restaurant Association supports this important bill.”
The three western Massachusetts legislators and mayor spoke before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Thursday.
At the start of this legislative session, Gomez (D-Springfield) (D-Springfield) jointly co-filed S.264 and H.531 in their respective branches, with Velis (D-Westfield) as a lead Senate co-sponsor.
According to a joint press release, Gomez provided oral testimony that focused on the impact sports wagering could have on small businesses at a local level. “Already the casinos have some built in advantages over the small business owners in my district like offering slots and table games,” said Gomez. “Casinos are also exempt from the Happy Hour Law, which in turn prevents small businesses from being able to change their prices day to day and allows casinos to offer free drinks to their patrons. The legislation we filed will allow small business owners to be more competitive within the sports wagering market.
“I’ve heard from small business owners themselves who tell me that they used to have regulars who played KENO and purchased food at their establishments; today they’ve lost about 80% of those customers to casinos. We need to level the playing field and support our local establishments, especially now as the bar and restaurant industry recovers from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Ramos addressed the municipal benefits this bill would provide and the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, stated the release.
“Our version is the only version that has specific language directing the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in the promulgation of their regulations to take into account diversity, equity and inclusion” stated Ramos. “States like Virginia are leading the way in adding explicit language prioritizing participation from black and brown business owners. We have to be intentional in allowing black and brown businesses a fair opportunity to benefit from this new multi-billion-dollar industry.”
The Gomez-Ramos version includes an opt-out clause for cities and towns, giving them the power to decide whether or not to allow wagers at retailers in their municipalities.
“This legislation would also prohibit wagering placed on sports involving animals. S.264/H.531 lays out a clear way to distribute a portion of the revenue by allocating it directly back to cities and towns based on the amount wagered in those communities. The remaining revenue raised from the bill will be allocated to the Massachusetts General Fund and directs revenue towards compulsive gambling mitigation funding, youth development support, economic development in Gateway Cities, a newly created Distressed Restaurants Fund and approved training for municipal police departments,” states the press release.
“Local establishments will get a commission, continue to pay meals tax that helps our local coffers and most importantly the ability to attract and retain patrons. This is such an easy way to help them without costing us anything and in fact we actually get money in return.” stated Reichelt.
The bill is before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies for review, which must be favorable for the bill to advance.