Western Mass. group Fair Play pushes sports betting legalization

Western Mass. group Fair Play pushes sports betting legalization

A group pushing to allow sports betting in keno parlors licensed by the lottery says the expansion would benefit small business and the state.

Fair Play Massachusetts– a Chicopee-based group of advocates and business owners — has organized to build support for the idea.

“It is about being fair to the small businesses first and foremost so they can be a part of this, and fair to the average person who wants to be a part of sports betting,” said Fair Play spokesman Ryan McCollum.

Gov. Charlie Baker last month introduced legislation to legalize sports betting, saying in a statement it was a good opportunity for Massachusetts to invest in local aid and remain competitive with other states with the same regulations.

Under Baker’s bill, existing casinos and slots parlors including MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor and Plainridge, would be allowed to offer sports betting and offer online wagers by themselves or in partnership with a third party.

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who oversees the lottery, has said the agency needs to begin offering its games online in order to keep up with changing technology.

“The world has changed with fantasy sports, sports betting, casinos and online lottery in neighboring states,” Goldberg said during her inaugural address. “We do not want to go the way of Sears or Toys R Us.”

Supporters of Fair Play Massachusetts said the group is not opposed to casinos having sports betting, they just don’t want them to be able to monopolize it.

“It gives people a way to enjoy the game in a safe and healthy way,” Chicopee restaurant owner Billy Stetson said of the proposal. “People are going to sports bars anyways to watch the game so why not give them a piece of the pie?”

Joe Sullivan of Nathan Bill’s in Springfield said local business owners would do a better job of keeping revenues in the state.  “When we make an extra $2,000 what do us local guys do? We spend it back in this state. When the casinos make extra money they don’t spend it here they give it back to their shareholders like they are supposed to.”

The initiative is in its early stages, but McCollum said the goal now is to build support.

“We are confident that if the Legislature, the Treasurer and the Governor really listen to our arguments that they will agree, and they are all capable enough to get together and flesh out the details on how our idea would fit in to whatever the final piece of legislation may be,” he said.

“Folks around here just want to be part of the conversation.”

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