With formal legislative action closing November 17, passage of a Massachusetts sports betting bill is still possible by the end of 2021.
That’s according to Sen. Eric Lesser, co-chair of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, who said during a State House News Service virtual forum on October 26 that Senate floor action on sports betting is close.
Lesser is the lead sponsor of S.269, which has been pending in the Senate budget committee since July, along with House sports betting proposal H.3993. The House bill advanced to the Senate by a 156-3 vote on July 23.
“I do think we’re getting close, but I do think, front of our minds and a big priority for me, is going to be making sure those consumer protections and game integrity issues are really front and center,” said the Longmeadow Democrat.
Senators made room for a sports betting vote on October 28 when they wrapped up a politically-charged remapping of their legislative districts. Next up was passage of a federal relief and state surplus spending bill, which unanimously cleared the Senate on Wednesday.
Now, with its top two priorities in the rear-view, many hope the Massachusetts Senate will turn its attention to sports betting.
“It’s been something that many of us have been working on on an almost-daily basis and there’s very active conversations going on. It’s very much a live issue,” Lesser said.
Issues Delaying A Massachusetts Sports Betting Vote
One hold-up to Senate approval is a lack of consensus on whether or not to allow betting on college sports in Massachusetts. H.3993 would allow betting on all college contests, with the exception of individual athlete performance. Lesser’s bill would not allow any betting on college sports events.
It’s an issue that Rep. Jerry Parisella — who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies with Lesser — says could impact Massachusetts sports betting revenue.
“(Sports bettors are) going to just continue going to New Hampshire, continue going to Rhode Island, go to Connecticut or use the offshore books which allow (betting on college sports),” Parisella said during the forum. “We want to give them a product that’s legal, that’s regulated, that provides consumer choice.”
Mobile betting by credit card is another hot-button issue in Massachusetts, says Lesser. The House proposal would allow credit cards to be used in sports betting, but Lesser’s bill would not.
“That’s a big concern, and it’s a big concern to our caucus,” the Senator told the SHNS.
What Happens If There’s No Vote This Year?
Getting a bill through the Senate before the Massachusetts legislature finishes its formal business on November 17 is not a make-or-break for either bill. Bills now pending are technically in play for two years, allowing both chambers to act on current bills into next year.
Further delays, however, will push a Massachusetts launch back further into 2022. With the 2022 Super Bowl coming up February 13, there’s a lot of money on the line for the commonwealth.
Gov. Charlie Baker tweeted his frustrations with the Senate’s delayed action on sports betting legislation before the New England Patriots’ season opener September 12. Baker has been an outspoken supporter of sports betting, even filing his own legislation this year.
“We filed a bill in 2019 and again this year to legalize sports betting in MA — it’s time to act and get this done. MA is losing out to many of our neighbors on this one.” Baker tweeted.