Massachusetts House Passes Sports Betting Bill

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It’s finally happened — the Massachusetts House of Representatives has voted to advance a bipartisan bill that would bring retail and mobile sports betting to Massachusetts as soon as this fall.  The vote was 156-3 in favor of passage. 

Should it become law, the “Massachusetts Sports Wagering Act” proposed in H.3977 would allow retail and mobile sports betting through the Bay State’s three casinos, as well as racetracks with simulcasting in Suffolk and Raynham. Mobile sports betting would be untethered statewide. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of how state licensing specifically would work under the House proposal: 

  • Each retail casino licensee would be allotted three individually-branded mobile skins, with one skin to allotted each retail track licensee. Mobile skins would be licensed separately.
  • Licensing fees would be $5 million for a retail license and $5 million for a mobile license. Each license would be good for five years, then renewable at $5 million for five more years.
  • Temporary licenses, good for a year, would cost $1 million. That $1 million would be credited toward a five-year license, if  granted.

Rep. Daniel Cahill is an original sponsor of the House bill.  The Lynn Democrat told his colleagues in a brief floor speech before today’s vote that legalizing Massachusetts sports betting will bring home the “fun.” 

“People are allowed to have fun. And sports betting is fun. But for some time now people in our districts haven’t been able to do that.” Cahill said. “Now we can capture revenues that have been going out of state.” 

College Sports Betting in Massachusetts

Unlike a competing Massachusetts sports betting proposal pending in the state Senate, the bill approved by the House would legalize betting on college sports, with the exception of prop bets on individual performance.

“It brings it out of the shadows,” Rep. Jerry Parisella, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said of the proposal. It is Parisella’s committee that handled the bill before its referral to and approval by the House Ways and Means Committee this week. 

And, Parisella said, college sports betting is lucrative — around 40 percent of all sports betting revenue is driven by college sports, the chair told his House colleagues. 

“More people bet on NCAA basketball than they do on the NBA,” he said. “(And) if we don’t allow college sports betting in Massachusetts they’re just going to use the applications that permit it, or they’re going to go to the states that do.” 

“We want one application,” he added, ”one opportunity, to bet on both college and pro,  and this does provide them that.”

Rep. David Muradian, a Grafton Republican, said college sports betting is worth “pushing all our chips to the center on.” 

“I firmly believe including college in our bill is unquestionably the right decision as a regulated market provides our student athletes, our colleges, and our universities with proper safeguards to ensure high-level competition will not be compromised,” he said. 

Diversity In The Bill

The House also voted overwhelmingly to adopt an amendment to the bill offered by Rep. Orlando Ramos of Springfield. Ramos’ amendment would require the Massachusetts gaming commission to study both minority participation in the sports betting industry and the feasibility of allowing sports betting kiosks at retail locations not mentioned in the bill.

Ramos, who sponsored separate sports betting legislation this session, spoke in favor of increasing opportunities in the industry for people of color.

“The truth is that legislation which has disproportionately impacted people of color has contributed to this welfare gap that exists in this country and Massachusetts,” said Ramos. “We must use legislation to help close this gap.”

The Money Line

Licensing fees under the bill would bring around $80 million to the state treasury annually, at least initially, said Parisella. Add in revenue from taxes, and the state revenue edges closer to $140 million annually, he told the House. 

The tax rates proposed are 12.5 percent on retail and 15 percent on mobile bets. Parisella said a lower rate on retail helps level the playing field in an industry where mobile gets more business. 

“We hope to drive business to those retail operators because they have ancillary benefits of job employment and also, for example, if someone goes to the casino they might buy food, they may buy drinks, they may bet on the roulette tables — so it provides additional economic benefit,” he stated. 

Mobile sports betting operators would also be required to pay a $1 million annual fee for problem gambling and addiction services. 

What’s Next for Massachusetts Sports Betting?

Next, the bill will go to the Senate where it is likely to face amendments — although it’s hard to say what the changes would be. 

There is the chance that the Senate will choose instead to accept Sen. Eric Lesser’s proposal to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts. Lesser, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies alongside Parisella, has said he supports betting on professional sports only. 

Massachusetts has less than four months to get a regulatory bill through to Gov. Charlie Baker if it wants to have legal sportsbooks in time for the 2022 Super Bowl. While the current legislative session doesn’t end until Jan. 4, 2022, the last day for formal action is Nov. 17, 2021. 

 

About the Author

Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, she has been known to watch UK basketball from time to time.

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