Boston Democrat Russell Holmes Explains His Opposition To Sports Gambling Bill

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Every Republican voted in favor of it, and all but three Democrats voted for it, as well.

There was bipartisan support for the bill to legalize betting on professional and college sports (H.3993) in the Massachusetts House of Representatives last week. It passed 156-3. Although many social conservatives oppose gambling expansion and the state-run lottery, there are none in the Republican caucus of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Of the three members who voted against it, two identify as democratic socialists:  state Representative Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge) and state Representative Erika Uyterhoeven (D-Somerville). They did not respond to NewBostonPost’s request for comment on Friday or Monday.

However, state Representative Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan) did respond and spoke to NewBostonPost by telephone on Friday afternoon.

Holmes said his biggest concern with the bill is the distribution of gambling revenue from the state. He said that it’s regressive, a problem which he notes is far greater than just sports gambling — with the Massachusetts Lottery being the biggest perpetrator.

“I think fundamentally we have been robbing from the poor and giving to the rich,” Holmes said Friday, July 23. “I think about the lottery. You want to talk about an opportunity to correct things that have been wrong for decades, it’s the algorithm that’s used to distribute this money to all of the cities and towns. There are opportunities that come about and this is one of them because you know we’re not going to come back around and fix this problem. I like to fix problems while we’re addressing them.”

Holmes noted that while sports gambling is projected to become a $60-million-to-$70-million-per-year industry for the state, the Massachusetts state lottery does around $1 billion. 

He told NewBostonPost about a study that WBUR conducted showing how much money Bostonians put into the lottery, how much they get back, and how 37 towns that had zero lottery sales from 2013 to 2017 got lottery revenue from the state. Meanwhile, Boston did $2.7 billion in lottery sales over five years (from 2013 to 2017) and got $850 million back in that same timeframe.

“There are towns that don’t have a single sale over five years and they get tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars from our poor people,” Holmes said. “If we’re going to continue to expand this, we need to look at the core problem, which is taking from the poor and giving to the rich.”

The report showed that the town of Harvard, for example, a leafy community northwest of Interstate 495 with a median household income of $131,719, got $6,641,689 in lottery revenue from 2013 to 2017 despite not selling any lottery tickets. Meanwhile, Boxford, a town with a median household income of $153,578, got $2,180,161.

The city of Boston, on the other hand, had a median household income of $58,516 per year during that same timeframe. Holmes represents the Sixth Suffolk District, which includes Mattapan and portions of Dorchester, where it’s even less. There, it’s $47,376 per year, according to Census Reporter. He also represents one of the most racially diverse districts in the state. It is 13.86 percent white and 68.5 percent black.

Lower-income Americans spend a disproportionate amount of their earnings on lottery tickets. A September 2018 Bankrate study found that 28 percent of Americans who earn less than $30,000 per year play the lottery at least once per week, compared to 19 percent of those who earn more than $80,000.

In December 2019, Bankrate reported that those low-income Americans who play the lottery spend 13 percent of their annual income on lottery tickets compared to the 1 percent spent by those who earn more than $80,000. That means an regular lottery player earning $25,000 a year in Massachusetts would lose on average about $900.

The other problem Holmes sees with the bill is a lack of commitment to helping historically underrepresented communities, including racial minorities and women.

“This is a brand new industry in this Commonwealth and they think of diversity, equity, and inclusion as the add-on,” he said. “We’ll establish the law and then give this community a little bit and some study at the end. No, you should be thinking about diversity and inclusion at the beginning. 

“You look at what’s happened with cannabis and casinos and gaming,” he said. “Now we’re expanding sports gaming but you don’t have a single person of color leading any of those or women. And now we’re going to keep going with these models when it comes to Cape Wind. Again, you have a billion-dollar industry being created and no inclusion of women, people of color, and others. I’m not voting for bills that don’t include my community just because people want to get rich.”

Holmes said that he is open to supporting these types of proposals, but that they need to benefit the people he was elected to represent.

“Until I see something that comes across my desk where the community that I serve gets our piece of the pie, then I’m still a no,” Holmes said. “I follow the money and make sure that my community gets the money that it deserves.”


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