Massachusetts Sports Betting Bill Passes Mass. Senate After Nine-Month Delay

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After nine months of delays, the Massachusetts Senate has approved legislation that would allow in-person and online sports betting across the Bay State. 

The Senate passed S.2844 by voice vote this afternoon after amending the bill following several hours of floor debate. The legislation follows passage of sports betting legislation (H.3993) in the Massachusetts House last July.  

That bill had been waiting ever since for a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which finally heard the bill on Monday. 

“This bill is the product of a thoughtful, deliberate process,” said Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues, D-Westport, who chairs the Senate budget committee. “The bill places emphasis on capital investment and long-term good paying jobs.

“I look forward to the debate today, and I am confident that, at the end of the process, we will have a bill that we can all be very proud of,” he said.

The legislation now goes to the House, where lawmakers there will have their chance to agree with the Senate changes – or not – before the current session ends in late July. 

How Massachusetts Sports Betting Would Work Under The Senate Plan

Under the legislation passed by the Senate, each of nine licensees would be eligible to operate both an in-person sportsbook and one mobile sportsbook. But only the state’s two resort casinos – Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield – and Plainridge Park racino in western Massachusetts would be designated for licenses by law.

All six remaining licensees would be selected by competitive bid. 

Like the two resort casinos, at least half of the competitively-bid licenses would be located in different “gaming regions” created under the commonwealth’s 2011 Expanded Gaming Act. There are three of those regions, but only two state-approved resort casinos (each in a separate region) for now. 

The intention of requiring at least one competitively-bid licensee per region is apparently to create parity – much like resort casino distribution under the 2011 law. 

Additionally, all nine licensees would be required to pay $5 million for five years, plus a $5 million fee to renew for another five years. That could potentially limit who could apply.

But at least a few of those provisions are likely to change once the bill makes its way back to the House. 

Differences In The Senate And House Sports Betting Proposals

Some big differences exist between the Senate proposal and the bill that passed the House last year: 

  • Betting on college sports. The Senate proposal would not allow legal betting on college sports. Betting on collegiate sports would be allowed under the proposal approved last year by the House.  
  • Tax changes. The Senate proposal would tax operator revenue at 2o percent for in-person bets and 35 percent for online bets. The House had proposed a 12.5 tax on retail bets and 15 percent tax on online bets. 
  • Credit card use. The Senate proposal would prohibit using credit cards to place a sports wager, while the House proposal would not. (Both chambers would allow debit cards to be used to place a sports bet.)

All those differences could potentially be hashed out by the Senate and House in conference committee (a group of lawmakers from both chambers assigned to reach agreement on proposed legislation) if the House disagrees with the Senate changes – which is likely. 

Common Ground?

Not everything is different between the Senate and House proposals, however. Both bills include consumer protections including exclusion lists for problem gambling. Advertisements that might target minors are a no–no in both bills, too, as is allowing those under age 21 to place a bet. 

Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, called the consumer protections in the bill among the most important sports betting provisions proposed by the Senate. Lesser is the lead sponsor of S.269, which is similar to S.2844. 

“It includes most importantly, I think, very, very strong consumer protections,” said Lesser. “At that end of the day this is, after all, a gambling product.”  

Lesser said S.2844 would generate an estimated $35 million in new state revenue annually in Massachusetts. 

“(That) could be directed to vital activities like paying for public safety, and for education, and for parks and open spaces and for health care,” said Lesser. “We’re going to have a vibrant industry emerge in Massachusetts and it’s going to generate a lot of jobs.”  

 

 

 

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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