Paul DeFranzo has been playing Keno for as long as he can remember. A $5 bet while out to dinner, or a $10 bet while watching the game at a local bar. Sometimes, he raises the stakes a little bit if he’s “feeling a bit lucky.”   But the lifelong Braintree resident knows most of his winnings — or more often his losings — come down to the luck of the draw. Sometimes your numbers come up, and sometimes they don’t, he says. But betting on professional sports would be a whole different story, with far less left up to chance.


“I know the teams, I know the system,” DeFranzo said recently, clutching what would ultimately be a losing Keno ticket while sitting inside the Braintree Brewhouse sports bar. “I think I’d win some money, or at least enjoy the games a whole lot more.”

Several bills are currently under review on Beacon Hill that would allow sports betting in casinos in Massachusetts, such as the MGM Grand in Springfield or Encore Boston Harbor in Everett. The move comes after the U.S.

Supreme Court struck down a federal law in May 2018 that banned commercial sports betting in most states, including Massachusetts.  But none of the bills would allow for bar or restaurant owners, many of whom have Keno and other lottery games already in place, to get in on the action.

DeFranzo said he’d certainly drive the 40 minutes to Encore to place a bet on one of his local sports teams, but he’d much rather do so in his own backyard. “I think it’d be a big boon to some of the bars here on the South Shore,” he said. “It’s not like you can’t get a scratch ticket on every street corner already. At least this would be something people could be personally invested in.”


Mutually beneficial
Ryan McCollum is the spokesperson for Fair Play Massachusetts, a grassroots organization of small business owners throughout the state that advocates for expanding the scope of Massachusetts’ would-be sports betting industry. According to him, if a bar or restaurant is already licensed by the State Lottery to offer Keno, adding sports betting would be a natural fit.


“It’d be a win-win-win situation,” he said. “From the bettor to the establishment to the state, all would benefit in some way.”Specifically, McCollum outlined four areas where sports betting would have value. The first, simply, would be the money it would bring in.“This would generate a large sum of money for the Commonwealth,” he said. “We see the money the Lottery already makes, and how that money gets put into firefighters, police, schools. This would add to that.”

Another benefit would be the boost it would give the local businesses where the bets would be placed. McCollum said his group is focusing only on dining-style bars and restaurants that offer Keno, not convenience stores or mini-marts.


“Some of these businesses are second- or third generation-owned places,” he said. “They’re the lifeblood of the community. They employ bartenders, wait staff and kitchen workers who live in these cities and towns. They need all the help they can get.”


Thirdly, allowing sports betting in local establishments would allow for what McCollum refers to as “geographic fairness.”“We have casinos in Springfield and Everett, but someone living in Worcester shouldn’t have to drive an hour just to put $25 on the Celtics,” he said. “Yes, having a mobile betting option would solve that, but not everyone is tech savvy or feels comfortable having that kind of financial information stored on their phone.”

Lastly, McCollum said that sports betting is coming to the state one way or another, and expanding the reach of the budding industry would give people more of a chance to take advantage of it through legal means.


“The more places where people can place bets legally, the less of a black market there will be,” he said. “A regular Joe who might go through a bookie to place a bet illegally would be less likely to do so if they can go next door to their local bar.”


Complementary systems
Rhode Island entered the world of sports wagering on Sept. 4, when the state launched its online sports betting system at Twin River Casino in Lincoln.


“It is an important milestone for the Lottery,” Rhode Island Lottery spokesman Paul Grimaldi said at the time. “We know this is something people want, and we expect it to be a popular option.”

The Sportsbook Rhode Island mobile app allows registered users to place bets on professional sports teams from anywhere through their phone or computer, after first showing a photo ID and activating their mobile accounts at Twin River Casino.


As part of the system, the state takes 51% of what gamblers lose on sports bets and has budgeted $22.7 million in revenue from sports betting between the app’s launch and June 30, 2020.  A full year of sports betting in fiscal 2020-2021 is expected to generate $26.3 million, $20.7 million of that from online bets, the state predicts.  McCollum said Massachusetts could see similarly high numbers, adding that he’s in no way opposed to that type of system.


“We are not opposed to casinos having sports betting or having it available online,” he said, adding, “We simply want small business owners to have a piece of that action and allow the average Joe to be able to bet in as many ways as possible.”


Mike Duffy has been betting on sports his whole adult life. The Malden resident has taken many trips to Las Vegas and used to frequent Suffolk Downs in East Boston for its thoroughbred horse racing. He said he’s been to Encore and MGM Springfield but thinks sports betting would ideally be shared by casinos and local establishments alike.

“Personally, I think there is a reason someone goes to a casino,” he said. “The average person will make a day of it – it’s a destination. You go for the flashing lights and the free drinks and the experience. But if you want to put some money on the Pats or Red Sox, that’s something different. I put that in the same category as getting a lottery ticket or playing Keno. Let the casinos make their billions with their experience and let the local bars have their thing, too.”


‘It just makes sense’
McCollum said he is continuing to grow the number of local businesses on board with Fair Play Massachusetts and will be bringing his message to municipalities in the eastern part of the state in the coming months. He helped the town of West Springfield pass a resolution this summer urging the Legislature to consider allowing Keno operators to offer sports betting at their establishments.


“The thing is, we already have Keno here,” Councilor Michael Eger said at the June 17 West Springfield Town Council meeting. “It is regulated, and as someone who works with a lot of people with addictions, yes there are problems. But there are 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.”


And in the end, that point is what many feel is the most important.


“If you ask me if bars and restaurants should offer sports betting, I’d say of course they should,” DeFranzo said. “It’d be one thing if gambling was illegal in this state. But the Lottery is huge. It’s everywhere. The only thing people in this state love more than playing the Lottery is their local sports teams. So why not let them combine the two and do it at their favorite watering hole.”