Massachusetts state Sen. Patrick O’Connor made strong arguments on the Senate floor for key changes that would have better aligned his chamber’s sports betting bill with language passed by the House.
Although none of his amendments were adopted, O’Connor will get another chance to influence the process as a member of the conference committee hashing out the differences on H 3993.
As a Senate conference committee member who favors many positions in the House bill, O’Connor could serve as a key to finding a compromise on Massachusetts sports betting.
O’Connor spoke with PlayMA about his hopes for the conference committee and why legalizing sports betting is important to him.
“I have a tremendous interest in making sure Massachusetts becomes the next state to legalize sports gaming,” O’Connor said. “Since I got into the Legislature, I’ve heard from a lot of constituents of mine who simply want to be able to engage in this. As we continue to see one domino after another fall with more than 30 states having legalized sports betting, it’s become a real matter of urgency that we produce a bill and get something done.”
Late emergence as sports betting expert
It was a surprise to see O’Connor so involved on the Senate floor. Many Massachusetts lawmakers had gotten involved in sports betting efforts over the previous five years. But he wasn’t among them.
He wasn’t among the at least 14 lawmakers to introduce sports betting bills in 2021. The only indication he supported sports betting came in 2020 when Minority Leader Bruce Tarr tried to add a sports betting amendment to the budget. O’Connor spoke in support of the amendment, which failed without a roll call vote.
“I kind of worked behind the scenes on sports betting,” O’Connor said. “Even though I didn’t introduce a bill, I worked with many colleagues on both sides of the aisle to see what the best practices were in other states and what we should be doing in Massachusetts. It led me to put forth a lot of the amendments I did.”
As one of only three Republicans in the Massachusetts Senate, he got the minority party spot in the conference committee.
O’Connor’s sports betting stances
O’Connor made his desires for Massachusetts sports betting known in April with seven attempted amendments on the Senate floor. Three were rejected, and he withdrew four.
Here are some of the key issues he’ll fight for in the conference committee where his takes match House language:
Wagering on college sports
The Senate sports betting bill prohibits wagers on college sports. O’Connor offered one amendment to allow wagering on all college sports and another prohibiting wagers only on in-state colleges.
“To exclude college sports I think would lead toward a continuation of the offshore and black market,” O’Connor said. “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.”
O’Connor added that Massachusetts would see a 25% reduction in expected revenue if it chose to ban college sports. The House bill allows betting on all college sports. It prohibits only prop bets on college athletes.
“A legal college sports betting market is not just a safer sports betting market, it’s also a more profitable sports betting market for the commonwealth,” O’Connor said.
Although he will accept college sports betting excluding in-state college teams, O’Connor doesn’t see it as the best path.
He recalled attending the Atlantic-10 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Washington, D.C., in March. He saw how Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill was available online at Capital One Arena. However, D.C. sports betting law prohibits wagering on college events that occur inside the District.
Yet, all he had to do to bet on the tournament was ride less than 15 minutes to MGM National Harbor casino in Maryland. He doesn’t want to see Massachusetts with the same illogical policy.
“If someone lives in Somerset, they’re minutes away from driving into Rhode Island and placing a bet on a Massachusetts college team,” O’Connor said.
Allowing wagering on esports and Olympics
O’Connor also offered amendments allowing betting on esports and amateur sporting events where the majority of individuals are over 18. Specifically, he means the Olympics.
He makes the same argument for Olympics betting as he does for college sports.
“The unfortunate reality is that even if the law prohibits wagering on amateur events, including the Olympics, bettors in Massachusetts will continue to wager on these events,” O’Connor said.
In esports, he sees wagering on video game competitions growing in popularity. The House bill allows wagering on esports.
“Esports emerged during the pandemic as a huge gambling vehicle when everything else shut down,” O’Connor said.
Eliminating the advertising ban
The Senate bill includes a never-before-seen ban on TV stations airing sports betting advertisements during game broadcasts.
O’Connor argued on the Senate floor for removing the ban. Sen. Michael Rodrigues, who chairs the conference committee, fought for its inclusion.
Since the Senate passage, O’Connor said conference committee members have heard from many Boston sports stations that the ban needs to go.
“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 said. “I don’t actually see how that can be implemented.”
Will Massachusetts legalize sports betting in 2022?
O’Connor said conference committee members have begun informal discussions on sports betting.
“I think legislative leaders in both the Senate and House want to make this happen,” O’Connor said. “I think they understand, at this point in time, that we are very late to put this in place.”
Now that each chamber has completed its budget proposal, he expects the sports betting talks to heat up over the next couple of weeks.
But he doesn’t expect a decision until July 31. That is the deadline to pass any bill requiring a roll call vote. All it takes is one person to call for a roll call, and O’Connor expects that would happen on sports betting.
“Beacon Hill is known for having conference committees resolved the last day of session,” O’Connor said. “Although it may go all the way to the deadline, a lot of work is already done to get it to that place. It’s not that everything gets done the last day.”