A big step toward legal sports betting in Massachusetts happens Thursday when lawmakers meet for the first time to discuss differences in dueling legalization bills.
The MA Legislature’s Sports Wagering Conference Committee meets virtually at 2 p.m. Thursday. The committee is composed of State Sens. Eric Lesser, Patrick O’Connor and Michael Rodrigues and State Reps. Jared Parisella, Aaron Michlewitz and David Muradian.
The six lawmakers must iron out the differences between each chamber’s MA sports betting bill. If the committee can come up with an agreed-upon bill, the House and Senate must pass it without amending it. The legislation then would be sent to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.
Senate vs. House on legal sports betting
The Massachusetts House passed H3993 in July 2021. The Senate amended the bill with its own language in April. After the House failed to concur with the Senate’s changes, the conference committee was formed.
Among key differences in the two bills:
- The House legalizes betting on professional and college sports; the Senate prohibits betting on college sports;
- The Senate taxes online sports wagering at 35% and in-person betting at 20%; the House prescribes tax rates of 15% and 12.5%, respectively;
- The Senate allows nine sports betting licenses – one for each casino and six untethered mobile operators; the House allows each casino to have three skins, three horse racetracks to have one and unlimited untethered mobile licenses;
- The Senate bans sports betting TV advertising during game broadcasts;
- The Senate does not allow for credit card deposits.
Tax revenue from Massachusetts sports betting
A PlayMA analysis found the Senate version of the bill, though restricting bettors from betting on college sports, would increase the state’s share of tax revenue by more than 200% over the House version.
A handle projection of $5 billion wagered under the House proposal produces taxable revenue of $212.5 million and $31.875 million in state taxes. A $4.25 billion handle without college sports in the Senate version generates $318.75 million of taxable revenue and $111.56 million in state taxes.
Sports betting advertising ban
Massachusetts would become the first state in the US to impose a whistle-to-whistle sports betting advertising ban during live game broadcasts if the Senate proposal was to make the final cut. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have made sports betting legal. It is live in 30 of those states.
The American Gaming Association (AGA) believes illegal offshore books pose a threat in Massachusetts and advertising is a critical teaching tool in new sports betting markets. AGA is a trade group that advocates for the casino gaming industry.
A whistle-to-whistle ban on TV gambling advertising during games in the UK has been in place since 2019. A Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) report said the restriction reduced the amount of TV ads seen by those age 17 and younger by 97% over the first year of the ban. The BGC represents the regulated betting industry in the UK.
Conference committee member O’Connor opposes the advertising ban and says it’s a free speech and practicality issue.
“We’re hearing from a lot of organizations, especially the broadcasters, that say they’ll miss out on significant revenues if that ends up in the final version of the bill,” O’Connor told PlayMA. “I don’t actually see how that can be implemented.”
College sports betting
The four states neighboring Massachusetts that have legal sports betting allow for college sports betting, excluding in-state colleges and universities.
Proponents for college sports betting believe excluding it from the bill would allow unregulated sports betting operations to thrive in the Bay State.
“If the Legislature only acts to legalize gaming on professional sports, we will be leaving a significant portion of the industry at the hands of the black market,” House Speaker Ron Mariano told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last month at its Government Affairs Forum.
Sen. O’Connor agrees.
“To exclude college sports I think would lead toward a continuation of the offshore and black market,” O’Connor told PlayMA. “If we just legalized professional sports, people are still going to bet on March Madness and college football. They’ll just use means not regulated by the state. And if we don’t allow college sports, I think it’s a disservice to people who may find themselves in problem gambling situations but are not receiving our protections.”
Where does the governor stand?
Baker is a proponent for legalizing sports betting in the commonwealth. He reiterated his stance recently after the Celtics beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
“There are a lot of people who literally just drive out of Massachusetts so that they can bet on sports, and it’s happening all over the country,” Baker said, according to MassLive. “And without a legal way to do this, it’s a little bit like the marijuana issue. You just leave the black market there, and you don’t sort of bring it out of the shadows and make it part of the regular crime. I think we should do that.”
Data from Boston-based DraftKings Sportsbook appears to support Baker’s theory, at least partially.
DraftKings is News Hampshire’s sports betting operator. It said Massachusetts bettors have accounted for 35% of all Celtics bets in New Hampshire during the NBA playoffs. DraftKings also said Bay State bettors accounted for 28% of DraftKings’ New Hampshire handle for March Madness and the Super Bowl.
Thursday’s conference committee meeting will be live-streamed on the Legislature’s website.