Massachusetts Sports Betting Opponent Claims Gaming ‘Institutionalized Racism’


Massachusetts lawmakers are hearing arguments this week on whether to legalize sports betting, but one critic to the further expansion of gambling says it unjustly targets minorities.

Massachusetts sports betting Les Bernal
Massachusetts sports betting Les Bernal
Stop Predatory Gambling National Director Les Bernal on a Zoom call with the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. Bernal is advocating state lawmakers to vote against sports betting. (Image: Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

Les Bernal has been the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a nonprofit organization committed to limiting commercial gambling, since 2008. He spoke before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies urge lawmakers to reject sports betting.

Bernal, long known in the gaming industry for making strong allegations against it, didn’t disappoint during this week’s Economic Development hearing.

I want to look at this issue [sports betting] through a racial equality lens. If you approve these bills as a committee and legislature, what you’re doing is furthering institutional racism of state-sanctioned gambling in Massachusetts,” Bernal declared. “Since you introduced the lottery 40 years ago, you’ve reconfigured the state tax code to benefit whites at the expense of black and brown people.”

Bernal added that Massachusetts people already lose $2 billion of personal wealth to state-sanctioned gambling each year. 

Massachusetts lawmakers have introduced numerous pieces of legislation that seek to authorize sports betting. The state is currently home to three commercial casinos — Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park. 

Wide Sports Betting Support

Bernal was in the minority during the committee’s sports betting hearing. The committee heard from numerous individuals that argued it’s time to legalize sports wagering.

The main argument among proponents is that sports gambling is already occurring in Massachusetts, whether it be through illegal underground bookies or offshore sites. Many other residents, supporters claim, travel to one of Massachusetts’ neighboring states that have legal sportsbooks to place their wagers. 

Massachusetts-based DraftKings said 30 percent of its business in New Hampshire comes from Massachusetts residents. 

“They’re going right by our mom and pop stores, our restaurants, and they’re staying in New Hampshire. They’re shopping in New Hampshire, and all that revenue, unfortunately, is going to New Hampshire, not Massachusetts,” said Rep. Brad Hill (R-Ipswich). 

Plainville Select Board Chair Brian Kelly said Massachusetts failing to legalize sports betting is “nothing but a loss to our communities and our state in terms of revenue and job opportunities.”

Massachusetts is bordered by five states. Three — New York, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island — have legal sports betting operational. Connecticut is expected to soon join after the state recently reached new gaming compacts with its two tribes to allow Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods to operate sports betting and iGaming. Those compacts, however, are pending approval from the US Interior Department. 

Casinos Fraudulent?

Not only did Bernal argue that gambling is essentially a racist undertaking, the anti-casino lobbyist also contended that the entire gaming industry is fraudulent.

“At its core, commercial gambling, the lottery, and local casinos are a big con. It’s a form of consumer financial fraud,” Bernal opined. “If I go out and buy a piece of pizza, or order a glass of wine, that’s what you receive in return. 

With commercialized gambling, or sports betting, it’s a financial exchange. And the financial exchange is rigged against you. So, the more you participate, the more you’re going to lose your cash,” he continued.

“It’s price gouging. It’s false advertising,” Bernal concluded. 

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