BOSTON -- As other states scramble to begin accepting bets on sporting events, the speaker of the Massachusetts House said it remains "a big question" whether Massachusetts will authorize sports betting this session.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that states are now free to legalize and regulate sports betting, and right out of the gate Massachusetts has found itself outside the lead pack.
Anticipating that the high court could open the door to state-sanctioned sports betting, some states -- including Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- have already enacted legislation to either legalize sports betting or allow the development of sports betting regulations, contingent upon the Supreme Court ruling the way it did Monday.
In Rhode Island, the governor assumed the state would be collecting revenue from sports betting when she proposed her fiscal 2019 budget. And in Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy said Monday he is prepared to call lawmakers into a special session to consider legalizing sports betting.
"Some states have already passed laws subject to this decision happening and other states have laws that are pending and have been moving rather slowly. Some legislators are taking the view of, 'Why don't we wait until the court acts until we move on this law,' " said Mark Hichar, an attorney who leads the Gaming Law Group at Hinckley Allen. "Now that the court has acted, I expect there would be renewed enthusiasm because now it's evident that this won't just be an academic exercise.
Massachusetts has, so far, taken the wait-and-see approach. Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Harriette Chandler each said Monday that Massachusetts should look into legalizing sports betting, which the Massachusetts Gaming Commission estimated could generate between $9 million and $61 million in state tax revenue a year, but none went a step further to call for passage of such a bill.
"I think there's a couple of questions I think that really have to be decided beforehand. I think right off the bat you have the question of integrity," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said. "Secondly, also, is the issue of revenue. What's going to happen in terms of the states around us, the other states in the country and whatnot."
DeLeo, who spearheaded the 2011 gaming expansion law, said sports betting "could be" a good thing for Massachusetts but said he is not sure how many other lawmakers are "right there right yet."
"Can it be done this session? Yeah, I would imagine it would," he said. "But the major issues are going to be there are so many questions out there relative to can it be done and how it can be done and whatnot that that's a big question as well whether we can get it done this session."
Chandler said she agreed with DeLeo but said the Legislature "could" take action this session, whereas DeLeo said he imagines the Legislature "would" act this session.
"I think we have to look at it, we have to look at it carefully. We need revenue, we've always needed revenue here and I think we have to look at it," Chandler said. "But we have to do it thoughtfully and carefully."
Earlier in the day, Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka said, "Everything is worth a look. Whether or not we can do it we'll have to see, but we'll consider it."
Rep. Joseph Wagner, House chairman of the Economic Development Committee, said his committee wanted to see the Supreme Court's ruling before taking action on a bill (S 2273) that includes a provision that would have established a commission to "conduct a comprehensive study and offer proposed legislation relative to the regulation of online sports betting."
"It's something we need to do a deep dive on and we need to do it expeditiously," Wagner said. "Other states will move quickly on this and I think the challenge will be to be quick out of the gate in an effort to look at this in a comprehensive way, but not so quickly that we do something and don't get it right."
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr called Monday afternoon for a special commission to review the issues around sports betting, building upon the bill before the Economic Development Committee.
"We need to carefully consider our options, and the possible positive and negative consequences of pursuing these options," Tarr said.
Wagner said he is not too worried when asked whether there is any concern that Massachusetts is already trailing other states, especially neighboring states like Connecticut and Rhode Island.
"There are always going to be states that are first out of the gate, but again, wherever your starting point is the concern is that your effort be a good effort and the result be a good result," he said. "Only time will tell on that."
Wagner said he expects Massachusetts lawmakers will look into "how whatever we might consider doing would be impacted by federal law," naming the Federal Wire Act as a possible snare in the consideration of sports betting.
Asked the same, DeLeo contested the notion of Massachusetts being behind other states and reiterated that there is not yet consensus on the issue in his legislative branch.
"Well, first of all, I think that if you look at so many different issues in this commonwealth, Massachusetts has never been behind, we've always been the leader in so many different issues," DeLeo said. "Beyond that, relative to this particular issue, I think whether we looked at it before, didn't look at it before -- there are still a number of questions that people have to get settled in their mind before we decide to move forward or not move forward."
States that do take action to legalize sports betting -- especially those that act first -- are expected to benefit from the increased revenue and could enjoy more favorable credit ratings.
"States and local governments that wish to legalize sports gambling will see minor benefits from the incremental tax revenues, although it will take time to implement," Emily Raimes, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody's Investors Service, said. "States like New Jersey and Pennsylvania that planned ahead will see benefits first."
S&P Global Ratings on Monday said it expects a slew of states to begin the process of legalizing wagering because "Many states are likely to welcome this new revenue source as years of slow economic growth have resulted in slim or negative operating margins."
The credit rating agency concluded that Monday's ruling could "result in 2018 being the single largest year for gaming expansion."
Matt Murphy contributed to this report.