| Stephanie Trombley
WEST SPRINGFIELD – On June 17 during the West Springfield Town Council meeting, the Council voted to pass a resolution urging legislature to consider allowing Keno operators to offer sports betting.
Town Councilors Brian Clune, Sean Powers and Brian Griffin offered the resolution with support from West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt.
After the resolution was read by Councilor Griffin, Fair Play Massachusetts spokesperson Ryan McCollum addressed the Town Council in favor of the resolution. Fair Play Massachusetts is an organization of small business owners throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that support the idea of sports betting being allowed in establishments that hold lottery licenses such as bars and restaurants.
“Sports betting is coming to Massachusetts now that it’s federally legal. Each state throughout the country is debating how they’re going to do it. The sense of all the different bills that are out there now is that it’s going to happen, it’s just how. Most of the bills now, to bet in person, you can only do that at our licensed casinos,” McCollum said.
McCollum explained that there are four reasons that Fair Play Massachusetts advocates for sports betting within institutions holding lottery licenses. “We have four main reasons why we think lottery agents should have the option for this. As Councilor Griffin stated in the resolution: revenue. Revenue is very important. You guys know better than I that municipalities are in dire need of revenue, especially unrestricted revenue that you can do something with. It doesn’t have to go to schools or wherever it’s mandated,” McCollum said.
McCollum continued, “If we allow lottery agents to have sports betting, not only will there be more bets placed because there will be more places to place a bet, but there will be more revenue realized from that dollar bet at a lottery agent than there would at a casino. Because all we’re doing is simply taxing the casino. If it’s a lottery agent, we’re actually removing the middle man.”
McCollum explained that Fair Play Massachusetts feels small businesses will also benefit from the resolution. “There’s a number of small businesses right here in West Springfield that currently, if they have Keno, are competing with MGM Springfield. MGM Springfield is able to offer free drinks. They’re able to offer drinks until 4 a.m. if you are gambling and they’re able to offer a plethora of games that your small businesses who can only offer Keno and scratch tickets can’t offer,” McCollum said.
McCollum continued, “So people want to watch the Bruins play the Stanley Cup, they want to watch the Patriots or Red Sox or what have you, if the folks in Springfield don’t have the option of being able to wager on some of these sports and across the river they do, they’re going to lose customers to across the river who want to go and legally bet on sports. It’s better for your small businesses who employ local folks.”
The third point made by McCollum was in regard to fairness. “The other piece is fairness to some folks who might not live close to the casino who want to bet. So if somebody lives in Worcester and he or she wants to place a wager on a game, 10 bucks on the Celtics, he or she should not have to drive an hour to Boston or an hour to Springfield to bet in person,” McCollum said.
Fair Play Massachusetts’ last reason for supporting the resolution is the black market, according to McCollum. “The more places where you can safely and legally bet, the bigger cut it’s going to make into the black market where folks aren’t running around trying to find somebody to place a bet with when they can legally go inside and place a safe and legal bet at a local business and kill multiple birds with one stone by helping that local business owner [and] helping their city or town with revenue,” McCollum said.
McCollum concluded, stating, “The other biggest piece is we just don’t want to seat the market to MGM. There’s business owners here who will be able to do it. They’re already regulated with their liquor license, they’re regulated with their lottery license [and] they’ll be able to do it responsibly.”
Councilor Nathan Bech spoke against the resolution. “This is a race to the bottom is what this is. If you want to have a trip to go gambling, it used to be that you’d take a trip to Vegas or Atlantic City. So now you can go right across the river and now we’re trying to get gambling into multiple facilities right here in West Springfield. We should remember that about 100 years ago or so, sports betting as far as horse track races was legal in West Springfield and so much of it was going on that the women and the clergy allied together and went to the politicians and said, ‘so many men are coming home on payday without their paychecks that it’s hurting our families and it’s hurting the community’ and that’s why this kind of stuff was outlawed in the first place. There are social consequences to this,” Councilor Bech said.
Councilor Bech continued, “The idea of taking away a black market, by taking something that’s illegal for a reason and legalizing it, you could make that argument about crack houses, about brothels. You could just keep going and going. As long as something remains illegal, it happens a lot less and it has a lot less social, detrimental consequences to our community or to West Springfield and to people in the area in general.”
Councilor Michael Eger spoke in favor of the resolution. “The thing is, we already have Keno here. It is regulated and as someone who works with a lot of people with addictions, yes there’s problems. But there’s also regulations and programs to deal with those problems. We already have it. We’re not adding locations, we’re just giving them another source of revenue that actively engages people’s minds,” Councilor Eger said.
Councilor Sean Powers compared sports betting to mutual funds, stocks and bonds. “Mutual funds, stocks, bonds and sports betting have one thing in common, and it’s all betting. Whether or not you’re betting on something that’s legal or something that’s regulated, Wall Street is regulated and that’s where you get your mutual funds, your stocks, your bonds, that’s where you have your annuities from; that’s how I look at sports betting,” Councilor Powers said.
Councilor Powers referenced his experiences as a child in regard to betting. “When I was 10 years old and 12 years old, it was Texas Hold ‘Em online, betting in online forums. That wasn’t regulated. A lot of kids lost money that wasn’t theirs; it was their parent’s [money.] As we grew up, it became at the touch of your phone. I know people that can now, through applications, place bet through their bookies on phones. It’s about regulating something that’s coming and I just think that we need to be in front of it,” Councilor Powers said.
Councilor Bech said, “Councilor Powers made a good point. Kids are already gambling away their parent’s money. Do we want more of that or less of that? What kind of culture are we trying to establish in this town? What do we want here in West Springfield specifically?”
Councilor George Kelly also spoke against the resolution. “People of West Springfield have traditionally in the past shown they’re very uncomfortable with casino gambling. We voted overwhelmingly almost 3-1 not to have casino gambling in West Springfield. People of West Springfield have voted in the past that they didn’t want anything to do with recreational marijuana and I think up here as a representative of the people, we have to listen to our voters,” Councilor Kelly said.
Councilor Eger made a motion to postpone the vote for one meeting in order to obtain the opinion of members of the public. With a vote of 3-6, the motion to postpone the vote did not pass.
The resolution passed with a vote of 5-4. To view the full Town Council meeting, visit www. livestream.com/accounts/5714082/westsidelive.