Sports Betting in Massachusetts Could Do More Harm Than Good

Harry Levant knows all too well the devastation that gambling addiction can cause.

Levant, a doctorate in law and policy candidate at Northeastern, is a recovering gambling addict and has seen the impacts of unregulated first-hand gambling.

“Right now we’re devoid of any public health consideration when it comes to this issue because the model that the gambling industry, the sports leagues and state government itself are embracing is ‘We have this new toy, it’s going to make all of us’ a lot of money––what’s not to like?’” Levant says. “It’s not whether this is good or bad. It is a known addictive product. Therefore, there has to be harm––there can’t be any other result.”

Massachusetts lawmakers recently wrapped up a marathon session that resulted in, among many changes, the legalization of sports betting in the state. While state politicians and betting sites, like Massachusetts-based DraftKings, have welcomed the change, Levant and other experts at Northeastern have serious concerns about the public health impacts of the new legislation.

Legalized sports betting has become a common trend across the country. The Bay State joins 30 other states, including Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, in adopting the policy.

The Massachusetts bill allows anyone 21 years or older to legally bet on professional and college sports, except for in-state schools (although bets can still be placed on those teams that play in “collegiate tournaments” such as March Madness). Wagers can be placed online and in-person. The bill is now headed to Gov. Charlie Baker, who has 10 days to sign or reject it.

Massachusetts legislators are hopeful the move toward legalized sports betting will bring both dollars and jobs to the state.

“Once signed by the governor, this new law will open a new industry for our commonwealth, creating jobs and economic growth,” state Sen. Eric Lesser said in a statement. “It will also safeguard consumers and athletes with some of the strongest protections in the country while maintaining the integrity of sports.”

There will be a 15% tax on in-person wagers and a 20% tax on mobile bets, as well as a $5 million application fee for casinos, race tracks and slot parlors to obtain a sports betting license, with seven licenses available for mobile betting platforms too. Lesser previously told CBS Boston that legalized sports betting could bring $60 million to $65 million a year to the state.

However, some members of the public health community, including Levant, have said the shift toward legalized sports betting ignores the threat posed by gambling and gambling addiction.

“They’re simply exchanging money from people to large corporate entities and the government’s taking its cut,” says Levant, who serves as a substance abuse counselor at Mirmont Treatment Center. “People will get hurt. Addicts will get hurt, people at risk of addiction will get hurt, families will get hurt, communities will get hurt.”

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