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Survival of small businesses, racially economic disparities in Mass. are key issues at sports betting hearing

Online operators, such as Boston-based DraftKings, will be included in any Mass. sports betting bill.
Online operators, such as Boston-based DraftKings, will be included in any Mass. sports betting bill.Charles Krupa

The polished testimony on Thursday from heads of casinos and gaming companies, lawyers for professional leagues and presidents of sports teams worth billions of dollars urging the Massachusetts legislature to adopt sports betting as soon as possible was to be expected.

But over the six-hour hearing before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, it was voices advocating for the survival of Massachusetts small businesses and for racially based economic disparities to be addressed that rose above the predictable fray.

“How many more special rules can you provide for MGM Springfield and the other brick and mortar casinos to allow them to take our business? How much more can you do to hurt us?” asked Springfield restaurateur Bill Stetson, who added that casinos already are allowed to operate later hours than bars and can offer drink discounts bars cannot. “This isn’t a matter of helping us or not, it’s a matter of hurting us or not, as we will lose more customers — in my case, to MGM Springfield — if they’re allowed a regional monopoly on in-person wagering.”

Online operators such as Boston-based DraftKings and FanDuel will be included in any Mass. sports betting bill, that seems clear, just as the three casinos and possibly the racetracks will have sports books on their properties.

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But as legislators and private citizens testified, if legislation does not permit bodegas, convenience stores, bars and restaurants in the state, some already selling scratch tickets or offering Keno, from having a kiosk-type arrangement allowing for sports bets, those establishments, already reeling from the pandemic, will be left in another hole.

Diversity, equity and inclusion also enter into the equation when it comes to allowing sports betting in retail outlets across the state.

Representative Orlando Ramos (Hampden) and Senator Adam Gomez (Hampden) are authors of the only two bills of the 19 sports betting bills before the committee that direct the Mass. Gaming Commission, which is expected to regulate sports betting, to create regulations that take into account DEI when it considers retail options.

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“We’re in the process of welcoming yet another multi-billion dollar industry into the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said Ramos, who went on to say that both the casino and cannabis industries are lacking in Black and brown owners. “That tells us we have to be intentional in allowing Black and brown businesses a fair opportunity from this new billion-dollar industry. Our bill allows for bars and restaurants to offer in-person betting. If we do not allow this provision into the final bill it would monopolize sports betting to casinos and online apps, none of which to my knowledge are owned by Black and brown owners, so this would be the only bill that would allow for ownership of Black and brown businesses to operate as sports business venues.”

“We have to use legislation” to close the racial wealth and income gap in the Commonwealth, said Ramos.

With New Hampshire and Rhode Island already having an active online and casino sports betting operation and Connecticut preparing to open an array of retail outlets near the Massachusetts border once it implements sports betting, as expected, later this year, another theme in the testimony was the multi-pronged border war Massachusetts is already losing.

“We watch as customers drive right through our town to go have breakfast, lunch, dinner, view entertainment or visit shops in Rhode Island because that’s where they’re going — across the border to partake in sports betting,” said Jennifer Thompson, town administrator of Plainridge, home to Plainridge Park Casino.

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Representative Bradford Hill (Essex), author of six sports betting bills, is getting tired of hearing the “ridicule” from New Hampshire about Massachusetts’ lack of sports betting.

“As a defender of the New Hampshire border, I would love to see sports betting take place,” said Hill, “because we are seeing similar action of our constituents who are going right over the New Hampshire border and putting bets in on these games — they’re going right by our mom and pop stores, our restaurants, and they’re staying in New Hampshire, they’re shopping in New Hampshire and all that revenue unfortunately is going to New Hampshire and not Massachusetts.”

Boston-headquartered DraftKings has 996 employees. That figure could be higher, said Jason Robins, co-founder and CEO of DraftKings.

“We look forward to increasing our local hiring even more but that is dependent on sports betting being authorized in our home state,” said Robins. “As I raised during my testimony in May 2019, until sports betting is authorized in Massachusetts, DraftKings cannot locate certain jobs in the Commonwealth. Over the past two years, we have shifted multiple teams and hundreds of employees to other US office locations in order to serve our customers in states where sports betting is legal.”

Others participating at the hearing included Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy, Celtics president Rich Gotham, representatives from the three casinos, the Mass. Gaming Commission and, on behalf of Governor Charlie Baker’s sports betting bill, Mike Kennealy, the governor’s secretary of Housing and Economic Development.

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When asked about expanding the governor’s bill to create more retail options as well as allow collegiate betting, Kennealy said he expects a “robust dialogue” to take place on a myriad of issues as all 19 bills move through the Committee.

Of the 49 delivering testimony at the hearing, just two — Boston College hockey coach Jerry York and longtime sports betting foe Les Bernal — voiced opposition.


Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.