If a Massachusetts team makes the College Football Playoff — and, yes, that’s a big if — Massachusetts lawmakers say the sports betting bill they crafted will allow wagering on the in-state team.
In passing Massachusetts sports betting legislation last week, lawmakers reached a unique compromise on college wagering. The conference committee prohibited wagering on in-state college teams except when playing in a tournament of four or more teams.
The carveout is intended to allow for wagering on in-state college basketball teams during the NCAA Tournament.
But Rep. Jerald Parisella, who served on the conference committee, tells PlayMA that there’s a reason the language sets the tournament at four or more teams.
Currently, the College Football Playoff involves four teams.
“If four or more teams are involved, then it’s permissible to bet on Massachusetts teams,” Parisella said. “It’s defined in the bill. So I think certainly a reasonable interpretation is if Boston College made the College Football Playoffs, you could bet on them in Massachusetts. Boston College has had some glory days in the past. Or maybe a miracle happens and UMass makes it.”
Mass. team could make College Football Playoff
A Massachusetts team making the College Football Playoff seems like an unrealistic dream right now. Boston College has never finished in the top four of the Associated Press poll and last played for an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) title in 2008.
UMass, who moved up in division classifications a decade ago, has never made a Division I FBS bowl game.
But lawmakers are setting up sports betting for the long run. And it’s not so far-fetched to have a Massachusetts team make the College Football Playoff in the next decade. The NCAA has considered expansion of the College Football Playoff to 12 or even 16 teams. It seems likely that a change will be made by 2026.
Boston College has six top-16 AP finishes in its history, most recently in 2007.
Wagers allowed on college games in Massachusetts
If two out-of-state college teams play in the Commonwealth, Massachusetts bettors can wager on that game. In 2023, the Army-Navy game will take place at Gillette Stadium.
Fenway Park plans to host the inaugural Fenway Bowl on Dec. 17. It will pit teams from the ACC and the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
Betting also would be allowed on any games if a Massachusetts venue hosted an NCAA Tournament regional.
“I’m happy we didn’t ban wagering on college games that come to the state,” O’Connor said. “That takes away from why Massachusetts would want to go out and bid for the NCAA Tournament or host a game at Fenway. I think doing those things go hand-in-hand with people wanting to wager on it.”
How lawmakers reached college betting compromise
In the final days of the formal legislative session, it seemed like the debate college sports could derail the bill.
The House included college wagering in its bill. The Senate didn’t after hearing from presidents and athletic directors at local colleges.
Excluding wagers only on in-state colleges seemed like a simple compromise. Ten states, including New York and New Jersey, allow college wagering but prohibit bets on in-state teams.
But the Massachusetts conference committee took it a step further by adding the caveat on tournaments.
“We had heard this from some of the lobbyists and especially some of the casinos during the process,” Sen. Patrick O’Connor said. “MGM and others told us how March Madness was one of the most popular periods they have for sports betting. And it’s one of those things that people are going to find a way to gamble on anyway.”
Realistically, O’Connor thinks interest in regular-season wagering on Massachusetts college teams is low anyway. The carveout will cover local teams in the NCAA Tournament and ACC Tournament for college basketball, the College Football Playoffs, and the annual Beanpot hockey tournament between Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University and Harvard. The provision would also allow for betting on Massachusetts teams in early-season college basketball events, such as the Maui Invitational or the Battle 4 Atlantis.
O’Connor thinks other states will follow Massachusetts’ lead in how it handles college sports wagering.
“I think any state that prohibits in-state college wagering might look toward Massachusetts law because of the unique way we carve out colleges in the state,” O’Connor said. “I think that carveout makes a lot of sense and other states should look toward that.”