Lawmakers Go All Night To Pass Massachusetts Sports Betting Bill
Massachusetts lawmakers went extra innings to complete sports betting legislation early Monday morning.
One of the country’s biggest hotbeds of sports fandom won’t be without a regulated sports betting option any longer. The final bill legalizes MA sports betting on professional and college sports but prohibits wagering on in-state colleges.
Massachusetts residents can look forward to a robust market with up to 15 sports wagering mobile apps.
A conference committee tasked with working out the differences between the House and Senate sports betting proposals reached an agreement after 5 a.m. Monday. The House accepted the conference report by an informal voice vote after 6 a.m. The Senate voted, 36-4, to accept the conference report just after 9 a.m.
Senate conference committee chair Sen. Michael Rodrigues explained the bill on the Senate floor:
“This conference report before us legalizes, regulates and taxes sports wagering in the commonwealth and moves it out of black market. It prohibits betting on Massachusetts college teams. It establishes a fair and competitive tax structure, and it contains strong consumer protection measures. And, like our casino gaming bill, should serve as a model of how to enact online sports wagering across the country.”
Sunday marked the final day of the formal legislative session in Massachusetts. Any bill attempted to pass after July 31 could be derailed by one dissenting member. Lawmakers got around this technicality by extending the day by an hour 10 times.
“I am proud to announce that the Sports Betting Conference Committee has reached an agreement on legislation that will legalize wagering on professional and collegiate sports in Massachusetts, bringing the immense economic benefits of a legal sports betting industry to MA,” House Speaker Ron Mariano tweeted.
Long run for MA sports betting efforts
Legalizing sports betting is a longtime coming for Massachusetts, which began discussing the issue in 2018. Since then, neighboring states New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire all passed sports betting bills. Massachusetts was on the sideline because of resistance in the Senate.
The House passed Massachusetts sports betting legislation by a 156-3 vote in July 2021. With H 3993 carrying over to the second year of a two-year session, the Senate finally passed the bill in April.
That set the stage for a conference committee, formed in May with three members of each chambers. Sens. Michael Rodrigues, Eric Lesser and Patrick O’Connor represented the Senate. Reps. Aaron Michlewitz, Jerald Parisella and David Muradian represented the House.
Muradian told Play MA:
“For too long, Massachusetts has been losing out on millions of dollars in revenue to surrounding states that have approved legalized sports betting, despite widespread support to allow for this type of wagering. It took some time to work out the details and reach an agreement, but the end result is landmark legislation that protects the athlete and the consumer, while at the same time infusing our economy with an exciting new industry.”
When both legislative chambers pass a bill, usually they can reach a compromise on final language. In five previous occasions in which states held conference committees on sports betting, conferees never failed to produce a conference report.
With the significant differences between the Massachusetts House and Senate sports betting language, however, that seemed like a real possibility up until the final day. Before Sunday, the conference committee officially met only once, on June 2.
Exchanges of language proposals occurred mostly over email, and legislative leaders from both sides expressed pessimism about completing sports betting.
How lawmakers resolved MA sports betting differences
Here’s the main differences between the House and Senate sports betting bills and how the conference committee resolved them.
- College betting: The House wanted wagering on college sports, and the Senate didn’t. Solution: Allow wagering on college sports but not on in-state college teams unless they are involved in a collegiate tournament.
- Mobile licenses: The House had no limit for untethered mobile licenses. The Senate allowed a total of nine licenses, one for each of three casinos and six for other physical properties. Solution: Allow two skins each for three casinos, one each for two simulcast facilities and seven untethered mobile skins for a total of 15.
- Mobile tax: The Senate bill included a 35% tax on mobile wagers; the House 15%. Solution: 20%.
- Retail tax: The Senate taxed in-person wagers at 20%; the House 12.5%. Solution: 15%.
- Credit cards: The House allowed use of credit cards to fund sports wagering accounts. The Senate prohibited the use of credit cards for sports betting. Solution: No credit cards for sports wagering.
- Advertising: The Senate prohibited broadcasters from showing sports wagering ads during sporting events. Solution: Adopt House language allowing ads during sports broadcasts. Instructs the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to prohibit advertising deemed to appeal directly to a person younger than 21.
Who can participate in Massachusetts sports betting?
Under the Massachusetts sports betting legislation, these five gaming properties can have physical sportsbooks:
- MGM Springfield
- Encore Boston Harbor
- Plainridge Park
- Suffolk Downs
- Raynham Park
The three casinos may each offer two mobile sports betting apps. The two simulcast wagering facilities may offer one mobile sports betting app.
An additional seven online sportsbooks may operate without physical ties.
Additional details of MA sports wagering bill
Here are additional key details from the conference committee report:
- Licensing fee of $5 million renewable every five years;
- Mobile operators pay an additional $1 million fee to the Public Health Trust Fund;
- Assigns the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to oversee sports betting;
- Sets a minimum age requirement of 21 years old to bet on sports in Massachusetts;
- Allows wagering on esports;
- Considers collegiate tournaments to have four or more teams;
- Requires the use of official league data for in-game wagers;
- Tasks the Massachusetts Gaming Commission with conducting a study on the feasibility of allowing sports betting kiosks at Massachusetts restaurants and bars. The Commission must complete the study by Dec. 31.
- Tasks the Massachusetts Gaming Commission with conducting a study on participation by minority-, women- and veteran-owed businesses. The Commission must complete the study by Dec. 31.
Where MA sports wagering revenue will go
Revenue estimates put Massachusetts sports betting revenue around $50 million per year.
Here’s how the legislation distributes sports wagering revenue:
- 45% to the general fund;
- 27.5% to the Gaming Local Aid Fund;
- 17.5% to the Workforce Investment Trust Fund. Money in the fund goes toward developing and strengthening workforce opportunities for low-income communities and vulnerable youth and young adults;
- 9% to the Public Health Trust Fund
- 1% to the Youth Development and Achievement Fund. Money in the fund goes toward providing financial assistance to students pursuing higher education, funding after-school activities and providing matching grants elementary and secondary youth sports, organizations and clubs.
Licensees may deduct federal excise tax from adjusted gross wagering receipts.
When sports betting could launch in Massachusetts
Now that the Legislature reached an agreement on sports betting, the bill heads to Gov. Charlie Baker. The governor is a longtime supporter who asked lawmakers to send him a sports betting bill. Baker has 10 days to act on the legislation.
“Once signed by the governor, this new law will open a new industry for our Commonwealth, creating jobs and economic growth,” Lesser said in a statement. “It will also safeguard consumers and athletes with some of the strongest protections in the country while maintaining the integrity of sports.”
Prior to serving on the conference committee, Lesser led four years of work on sports betting legislation as Senate chair of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee.
Muradian told Play MA that lawmakers will tack on an emergency preamble to allow the law to take effect immediately upon signing. That removes the typical 90-day delay, accelerating the timeframe for MA sports betting launch.
Muradian doesn’t think it will take long for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to complete rules and regulations and grants licenses. He said he’s thinking Massachusetts can have sports betting up and running by the middle of the NFL season.
What’s next for Mass. sports betting?
Perhaps more launch questions will be answered at the next Massachusetts Gaming Commission meeting, tentatively scheduled for Thursday.
In a statement emailed to Play MA on Monday, MGC spokesperson Tom Mills wrote:
“The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is reviewing the sports wagering bill that was passed by the Legislature early this morning and is currently on the Governor’s desk. Over the last several years we have been monitoring legislation that has designated the MGC as regulator of a Massachusetts sports wagering industry, and staff have been doing their due diligence in order to proceed swiftly should a proposal be signed into law. The MGC will begin discussions related to this piece of legislation at our next public meeting, which is anticipated to take place this Thursday. All public meetings and relevant information will be available on the MGC website.”