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Soter: Committee seeks 'best product' for sports betting

7th February, 19:16

State Rep. Michael Soter, R-Bellingham, who serves on the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said if Massachusetts allows sports betting, he would favor a framework that includes both mobile betting and physical sports books.

BOSTON - More than a year and a half after the Supreme Court gave states the green light to take legal bets on sports, the legislative committee that's been studying the issue and considering the possibility of bringing it to Massachusetts looks to be approaching the end of its process.

A suite of sports betting bills, including one filed last year by Gov. Charlie Baker, was included in an extension order filed Wednesday by the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. The committee is seeking permission to keep working on the bills through Feb. 28.

Led by state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, and state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, the committee held two days of hearings on sports betting last May and has been exploring the many ramifications - positive and negative - that could come with legal sports betting.

State Rep. Michael Soter, R-Bellingham, who serves on the Economic Development Committee, praised Ferrante's deliberate approach to sports betting in a recent interview on WEEI and said the committee wants to make sure "that we are putting all the necessary steps in place to effectively roll out the best product."

He said three of the biggest issues being discussed are how to ensure any sports betting system has consumer protections and responsible gambling safeguards built in - "there are layers and layers and layers of technology and things like that that we need to understand," he said - how to insulate college athletes from any undue influence that could arise if betting on NCAA games is permitted, and how to shield the Lottery from sports betting "bringing in a whole different competitive piece."

"Those sound like three very simple things, but we're looking at what New Jersey does, now what New Hampshire is doing, we've looked at Rhode Island, we've looked at Las Vegas," Soter told WEEI host Mike Mutnansky, who hosts a "Let Us Bet" segment on his show every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

If Massachusetts does allow betting, Soter said he would favor a framework that includes mobile betting and physical sports books.

"If we allow sports booking, I'm sure there's going to be a component where the casinos are going to be involved," he said. "I'm not looking to give it to one segment or the other, I'm kind of an all-of-the-above approach."

On top of the sports betting-specific questions the committee must answer - how should wagers or winnings be taxed? Should college sports be open to betting? How accessible should betting platforms be? - lawmakers have previously suggested they might address a more comprehensive scope of the gaming universe, including sports betting, daily fantasy sports and other forms of gaming and wagering, with legislation this spring.

"If I was a betting man - no pun intended - I think we'll start seeing something arise over the next few months," Soter said on WEEI. "I don't think, as a committee member, it's something that we need to rush into and make mistakes just because other people are doing it."

Soter also defended Baker from Mutnansky's criticism that the governor has not done enough to push the Legislature to act on his sports betting bill or the issue generally. Soter said Baker is doing a lot behind the scenes on the issue.

"I bring this up on a relatively frequent basis with my colleagues in the Legislature, and I have not made much progress on it," Baker said in late 2019 during an appearance on WEEI's The Greg Hill Show. Previously on the sports talk station, the governor said he did not anticipate much from the Legislature until the session is nearly complete.

"The session ends in July, but I would be very surprised if it got done before that," he said in October on WEEI.

Still, Baker was confident enough about the expected outcome to write $35 million in sports betting revenues into the $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 budget he filed last month.

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