Legalizing sports betting will promote institutional racism: influential opponent argues

Stop Predatory Gambling National Director Les Bernal

Stop Predatory Gambling National Director Les Bernal urged Massachusetts lawmakers to reject sports betting, claiming that it would ‘institutionalize racism’ by unjustly targeting minorities.

Les Bernal, who has been the national director of nonprofit organization Stop Predatory Gambling since 2008, testified before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies (JCEDET) and urged lawmakers to reject the plans to expand gaming further in the state.

Bernal has been advocating the state lawmakers to vote against sports betting as he and his organization believe that legalizing sports betting would go against the minorities. His nonprofit organization has repeatedly pledged to remain committed to limiting commercial gambling.

Bernal has long been known for making strong allegations against the gaming industry, and did the same again during the recent hearing.

Speaking on the issue, he said, “I want to look at this issue of 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.”

Making a serious allegation, he further said that since the introduction of the lottery in the state, the state tax code had been used to benefit only white citizens at the cost of the people of other color. He stressed that state citizens lost nearly $2 billion of their personal wealth to the sate-sanctioned gambling each year. 

During the committee’s hearing on sports betting, Bernal was in the minority. Most of those who testified during the hearing said that it’s the perfect time to grant a legal status to sports wagering.

The main argument that the proponents of gaming expansion are making is that sports betting is already prevalent in the state through illegal underground bookies or via offshore gaming websites. A large number of state residents travel to Massachusetts’ neighboring states to place bets on their favorite teams and sports. Even sports betting services provider DraftKings has admitted that nearly 30% of its business in New Hampshire comes from Massachusetts residents. 

Currently, Massachusetts is home to three commercial casinos, viz. MGM Springfield, Plainridge Park, and Encore Boston Harbor. Many more could come in the future as state lawmakers are mulling numerous pieces of legislation to expand gambling in the state to create new jobs and generate a new stream of revenue for the state exchequer.