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It’s Do or Die Time For Massachusetts Sports Betting

It’s Do or Die Time For Massachusetts Sports Betting
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Jul 9, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo (99) celebrates with teammates after driving in the game-winning runs during the tenth inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

  • Three days remains in the Massachusetts legislative session
  • A six-member conference committee is working out the details of a Massachusetts sports betting bill
  • House and Senate are far apart on what they want in sports betting

Massachusetts sports betting is on the clock.

Three days remain in the Massachusetts 2022 legislative session and a six-member conference committee is working behind closed doors to iron out the details of a potential Massachusetts sports betting bill.

While the general term being thrown about the statehouse has been “hopeful,” there is little concrete detail coming out on the negotiations and if the committee will be able to bridge the wide gap of how the House of Representatives and Senate view potential sports betting in the state.

Massachusetts Conference Committee Still at Work on Sports Betting

A six-member conference committee is currently negotiating sports betting before the July 31 deadline. The committee has mostly been tight lipped about any potential progress on a compromised bill. In early July,  Rep. Jerald Parisella (D-6th Essex) said at the annual National Council of Legislators from Gaming States meeting in Boston he is “hopeful” an agreement will be reached on a Massachusetts sports betting bill before the month is out.

That’s about as open as any of the committee members have been during the process.

Parisella, along with Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-3rd Suffolk) and Rep. David Muradian (R-9th Worcester), have been embroiled in discussion with Sens Eric P. Lesser (D-1st Hampden and Hampshire)Patrick O’Connor (R-Plymouth and Norfolk), and Michael Rodrigues (D-1st Bristol and Plymouth) since early June.

Massachusetts Gov. Baker Wants Sports Betting Bill

Unsurprisingly, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) met with reporters on Thursday and said he’s “hopeful” that momentum will continue into the weekend and a bill will land on his desk for approval when all is said and done.

Baker has long been a proponent of Massachusetts sports betting, touting its potential advantages for Massachusetts tax payers, businesses, and organizations involved in the sports betting market.

The governor even went so far as to propose his own sports betting bill in 2021.

Yet despite his urges, most public comments on sports betting cast a pessimistic view of its chances. Earlier this week on WBUR radio Boston, State Senate President Karen Spilka (D-2nd Middlesex and Norfolk) spoke with Tiziana Dearing and discussed the state’s chances of legalizing sports betting before its July 31 deadline.

In the interview, Spilka said the House will have to take a more realistic approach to the inclusion of collegiate sports betting on any proposed bill.

“The Speaker (Ronald J. Mariano) has said that if college betting isn’t it in, there’s no point in doing it. I would hope, and I would ask, that the Speaker change that position and not take an all-or-nothing approach,” she said.

The inclusion of collegiate sports betting in a Massachusetts sports betting bill would likely lead to between $25 million to $35 million more in annual revenue, but Spilka said she’s heard from several collegiate presidents and athletic directors urging legislative leaders to not include collegiate betting in a bill.

Mariano and the House have held fast in their opinion that collegiate sports betting be included in the final document, and there has been no reason to think their stance has changed as Massachusetts moves closer to the July 31 deadline.

Other Differences in House and Senate Sports Betting Bills

While collegiate sports betting is a sticking point for both legislatives bodies, several other differences in both proposed bills need to be ironed out.

The Senate approved bill sets its retail sports betting tax rate at 20% and the online sports betting tax rate at 35%. The bill allows for sports bets to be funded by debit cards or digital payment, but does not allow for credit cards to fund bets.

The bill also does not allow college sports betting and also imposes some of the strictest restrictions on marketing and advertising in the country. The law would not allow televised sports events in Massachusetts to air sports betting advertisements or broadcasts to mention sports betting sponsorships on air.

The House approved bill calls for much lower rates, with online sports betting at 15% and retail sports betting at 12.5%, and also allows collegiate sports betting. It features much less restrictive advertising and marketing rules and allows sports bettors to fund bets with a credit card.

The Senate bill allows for nine sports betting licenses, one for each brick-and-mortar casino in the state, and six untethered online sports betting licenses. The House bill allows each of the state casinos a sports betting license and up to three online sports betting skins. It also allows one license per state racetracks (the Senate bill does not) and one online sports betting skin. Finally, it allows for unlimited untethered online sports betting licenses, as long as they are approved by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

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Robert Linnehan

Regulatory Writer and Editor