Vehicles Getting In Gear For Massachusetts Sports Betting Push

Posted on October 21, 2020

Massachusetts sports betting is waiting for a ride to the finish line.

Two vehicles are being gassed up, inspected and filled with luggage. Which one the legislature packs sports betting into is the only question.

Currently, sports betting is in conference committee discussions for the economic development bill. But Gov. Charlie Baker recently re-upped the inclusion of sports betting in his budget proposal.

The legislature is aiming to pass both the economic development bill and the budget before Thanksgiving.

Jeremy Kudon, a lobbyist representing Major League Baseball, the NBA, DraftKings and FanDuel, believes Massachusetts sports betting will get over the goal line this year.

“It’s more likely than not that this will work out and sports betting will be included in one of those vehicles in the next two months. There’s still a chance that it won’t, but it’s just more likely than not that it will.”

The two options for Massachusetts sports betting

Economic development bill

The House included sports betting language in its version of the economic development bill in July. The Senate did not and rejected Sen. Brendan Crighton’s amendment to include it.

Then, the chambers passed a resolution to extend the session, opting to put off working out their differences on the bill.

The House wants sports betting to make the economic development bill. It’s become part of the negotiations. Knowing the House wants it, some in the Senate want to use it as a bargaining chip.

The economic development bill that comes out of conference can’t undergo any more changes. It goes right to a vote in each chamber.

Budget

Last week, Baker took the rare step of refiling his annual budget from January. He again included $35 million from sports betting revenue in his budget proposal. That could be an indication that the budget is the best fit.

However, as a Republican governor in a state with Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers, Baker doesn’t have much influence on the legislative process.

A representative of a gaming company that does business in Massachusetts told PlayMA that the most likely sports betting vehicle is the budget.

According to the source,

“I think where it stands is the legislature is trying to figure out what to do in general with a ton of stuff. It’s not specific to sports betting, but it’s impacting sports betting. There’s no chatter of opposition or people not wanting to do sports betting.”

Chamber politics only concern for MA sports betting

Which vehicle the legislature chooses for sports betting doesn’t seem that important, now that both appear to be headed for the finish line around the same time.

Lawmakers had expected to complete the economic development bill months before the budget. Now it could even come soon after the budget.

The holdup doesn’t appear to be anything related to working out differences on sports betting language between the chambers. In Massachusetts, both chambers have a Democratic majority.

Yet, they have a strange dynamic where they battle each other even though they are the same party.

“I’ve learned that throughout the country, red state or blue state, if they don’t have parties to go after, they go after each other. Next thing you know, the chambers are treating each other like separate parties,” said Kudon.

Base language for MA sports betting discussion

The House tackled most of the major sports betting issues in its version of the economic development bill.

Its sports betting language set up the following elements:

  • Authorize the state gaming commission to regulate legal sportsbooks in the commonwealth.
  • Establish licensing for online and retail sportsbooks along with service providers.
  • Permit brick-and-mortar casinos, off-track betting sites, and racetracks to offer wagering.
  • Allow for online-only, standalone sportsbook operators.
  • Establish a 15% tax on handle for the state.
  • Impose a 1% excise tax on handle for in-state events, paid to venue owners.

Kudon says the questions his firm has heard from Massachusetts legislators over the past couple months haven’t been why or how they should do sports betting. Instead, what lawmakers want to know is what parameters get the state the best return on investment.

Collegiate betting a point of contention

If Massachusetts wants the best ROI, it will ignore a letter from presidents of eight Massachusetts universities and colleges requesting that the state exclude collegiate wagering.

Not having NCAA betting will put the state at a significant disadvantage compared to neighboring New Hampshire, Rhode Island and, most likely, eventually Connecticut.

People likely will cross the borders into those states to place their bets, or stay on illegal offshore websites.

“It never ceases to amaze me how hard it is to convince legislators that there’s a monopoly-sized operator already in every state, and that is the illegal offshore market,” Kudon said. “When structuring these bills, it needs to be in a way that allows the legal operators to have have the ability to compete with this monopoly as much as possible.”

The American Gaming Association rebutted the NCAA letter last week with a letter of its own. Casey Clark, the AGA’s senior vice president of strategic communications, told PlayMA that the college presidents are stuck in a stoic and antiquated policy position.

“It’s such a fallacy to argue that because the Supreme Court overturned PASPA, people all of a sudden are betting on sports. The idea that legal NCAA betting presents vulnerabilities to athletes is nonsense. People have been betting on college sports a long time, only doing it through black-market operators. In a legal market, operators can track where money is going, notice anomalies, and contact leagues and regulators. Regulated books are the first line of defense. The only way these anomalies get caught is through operators.”

Time frame for Massachusetts sports betting

In a typical year, Massachusetts completes the budget by July 31 and then breaks for the year. But this year has been anything but typical. The state has been on a monthly budget since July and really needs to complete the annual budget by the end of the year.

Jonathan Thibault, chief of staff for Sen. Crighton, believes the budget will get done before Thanksgiving. Lawmakers could possibly come back to complete their work in December.

“I anticipate it getting done within a month,” Thibault said. “I suppose it could go into 2021, but I think it’s very unlikely.”

Current expectations are that Massachusetts won’t finish either bill until after the election.  Part of the reason is that, like New York, Massachusetts too is waiting to see if it gets any federal money in a stimulus.

“To me, either vehicle is fine — I just want a bill,” Kudon said.

“The challenge of Massachusetts and New York right now is neither state legislature has ever been in a situation like this. We’re in a world where they’re playing in overtime and they’ve never played in overtime, so all the rules are thrown out.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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