The leaders of the most prominent college athletic programs in Massachusetts are urging state lawmakers not to pass any sports betting law that allows wagers on collegiate contests, arguing that such a measure would “create unnecessary and unacceptable risks."
The letter, dated Thursday, was signed by the presidents of Boston College, Boston University, Harvard University, Holy Cross, Merrimack College, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts system, along with the athletic directors of most of those institutions.
“Based on our years of experience, each of us believes that such legislation will create unnecessary and unacceptable risks to student athletes, their campus peers, and the integrity and culture of colleges and universities in the Commonwealth,” they said.
The message comes as members of the Massachusetts House and Senate continue to negotiate over a wide-ranging economic development bill in which the House has proposed to include a measure legalizing sports betting. The Senate passed a measure that did not include sports betting, and the two sides are working to iron out that and other differences.
The House proposal is projected to generate $50 million in annual revenue, of which a significant portion would initially be used to help hard-hit restaurants and to support jobs and education for low-income and vulnerable young people.
The conversation around sports betting in Massachusetts has been going on for more than two years, and state officials have taken various positions on whether college sports should be included. Most states that have legalized sports betting have allowed wagers on college games, though some have prohibited bets on contests involving in-state institutions.
Gambling interests have argued for collegiate sports betting to be allowed, or for state regulators to have discretion on whether to permit them. The industry argues that a prohibition would lead people to continue making illegal bets, especially online. The research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming has projected that a full prohibition on college games could reduce the size of a legal market by 25 percent.
Governor Charlie Baker in early 2019 proposed a measure that would allow sports betting at casinos or through regulated applications online, but it would prohibit college bets.
The latest proposal out of the House would allow bets on college sports along with pro games, but it would ban “any wager with an outcome dependent on the performance of an individual athlete in any collegiate sport or athletic event, including but not limited, to in-game or in-play wagers.”
In their letter, the college presidents said they were particularly concerned about such bets. But even if wagers on individual performance are banned, they worry that colleges will have to devote resources to protecting against corruption or rules violations among athletes and the student body in general.
“Should sports betting become a reality in Massachusetts, college and university leaders will … have to devote more scarce time and resources to protecting the brand, values, image, and reputation of their schools,” the letter said.