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After nine months of inaction, the Massachusetts Senate appears ready to debate legal sports betting this Thursday. 

But it may still take a while to get a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker. 

Legislation to allow online and retail sports betting approved by a Senate budget committee last Friday is more restrictive than the bill approved by the Massachusetts House last July, with sticking points on college sports betting and tax rates specifically. 

The Senate proposal would exclude betting on college athletics, while legislation passed overwhelmingly by the House last year would allow it. 

Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano has made it clear that he wants college sports betting included in any sports betting bill sent to the governor. According to the State House News Service, “the omission of college sports from a legal gambling framework could be a deal breaker for him.”

That sets whatever bill may emerge from the Senate up for a battle with the House. The result is likely to be a conference committee to hash out differences between the Senate and House provisions. 

Lesser’s Bill Prohibits Wagering On College Sports

The bill approved by the Senate last Friday is S.269, sponsored by Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow. The 2022 candidate for Massachusetts Lt. Governor and chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee succeeded in having the bill moved to the Senate budget committee last July.

It has been waiting for a vote alongside the rival House proposal (H.3993) ever since. 

A prohibition on college sports betting proposed by S.269 has received the most pushback from supporters of the House bill that was approved 156-3 last summer. One of those who have stood firm in support of college sports betting is Mariano, who told Baystate Business last July he wants college betting in the final bill. 

“I find myself having a tough time trying to justify going through all of this to not include probably the main driver of betting in the commonwealth,” Mariano said, via WBUR. 

Sports Betting Taxes, Credit Cards Among Other Possible Obstacles In Mass

The Senate and House also have differences when it comes to taxation of sports betting operators. The Senate proposes tax rates of 20 percent for in-person betting and 35 percent for mobile and online betting. Much lower tax rates of 12.5 percent for in-person wagering and 15 percent for mobile bets are proposed H.3993.  

Another possible snag is allowing credit cards to be used for placing bets. Lesser’s bill would prohibit bettors from using credit cards for wagering, but the House proposal would not. 

But it’s still too early to know what the full Senate will do, should a bill actually come to the floor this week. The chamber may decide to wait a while longer before voting. Or it may not vote on sports betting at all this session.

The Senate has about three more months to decide what to do before this year’s formal legislative session ends July 31.

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Writer and Contributor
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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