AGA To Massachusetts: Include College Sports In Legal Sports Betting Legislation

Written By Derek Helling on October 15, 2020Last Updated on January 31, 2023

If and when Massachusetts legalizes sports betting, one prominent voice in the gambling industry hopes the legal framework won’t be too restrictive.

The American Gaming Association sent a letter to MA legislators Tuesday. The organization urged lawmakers to allow regulated wagering on college sports. This comes as a response to others in Massachusetts who would prefer to ban college betting.

The AGA’s reasoning: Any prohibition on legalized sports betting allows the black market to thrive.

What’s in the AGA letter?

Essentially, the AGA wants any sports betting law in the Bay State to include wagering on collegiate sporting events. It’s a direct answer to a communique from university presidents in the state.

In that letter, the presidents of the eight Massachusetts colleges and universities that play basketball at the NCAA Division I level stated their hopes that the government would make betting on college sports explicitly illegal in MA.

The AGA takes the exact opposite stance in its letter. While banning wagering on college sports would certainly diminish future sportsbooks’ abilities to compete for handle, the AGA also emphasized how regulating that market would strengthen the integrity of games and protect bettors, competitions and athletes by “enabling robust, transparent and collaborative monitoring by regulators and law enforcement.”

“Only in a legal, regulated market do regulators and law enforcement have insight into betting patterns and activity that can help them identify concerning trends that in turn help to uncover unlawful tampering with games and athletes. No such protection exists in the illegal marketplace.”

That statement directly addresses the argument most often made by proponents of bans on college sports betting. Their most common argument is that because athletes are so poorly compensated for their labor, they are more susceptible to match-fixing schemes.

Another motivation for the AGA and its members is competition. In order to compete for every dollar possible with legal books in other jurisdictions and the illegal market, future MA sportsbooks need to be able to offer similar variety and volume.

While this isn’t an immediate concern for state legislators, it could become a hot-button issue. Earlier attempts at legalizing sports betting treated this facet differently.

Baker’s vs. Crighton’s sports betting bills

In the last session, Massachusetts legislators considered a package of bills that would legalize sports betting. However, none of them even reached the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker.

Baker actually presented one bill to the legislature. In its last form, the measure would have given the college presidents exactly what they want: a ban on all wagering on collegiate sporting events.

A bill put forth in the Senate, however, was less restrictive. As proposed by Sen. Brendan Crighton, it would only carve out bets on games involving MA colleges and universities.

Even that would be more restrictive than what the AGA hopes to see, however. The AGA argues against any restriction on collegiate betting whatsoever.

Right now, it’s difficult to get a feel for what a majority of the state legislature prefers. Additionally, there’s no indication that Baker is going to insist on restrictions for college sports betting to the point he would veto any bill without one.

The governor has been a staunch supporter of sports betting legalization, suggesting that he may be willing to compromise on this front in order to get the deal done.

A compromise may be where this ultimately lands. In many ways, the legislature could make a decision that fully satisfies no one. At the same time, legislators could give everyone a little bit of what they want.

The MA legislature has options

Crighton’s framework would be an approach similar to that which other jurisdictions have already taken. The likes of Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington, D.C., don’t allow their legal books to take action on college teams within their jurisdictions.

New Jersey and Washington take that a step further, barring action on any collegiate events that even take place within their areas. Other states have come up with more creative steps.

For example, Iowa allows sportsbooks to take all bets on college sports except for prop wagers based on individual athletes’ performances. Tennessee is a little different, as sportsbooks there won’t be able to post any in-game prop markets for collegiate games.

Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all treat college sports the same as any other for betting purposes. So far, that hasn’t resulted in any allegations of match-fixing.

Ultimately, this will be one of many issues the Massachusetts legislature will discuss as it considers the legalization of sports betting. In any case, someone won’t be happy with the end result.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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