Massachusetts Sports Betting Still In Limbo, Maybe For A While

Posted By Derek Helling on June 19, 2019

Fans in Massachusetts who want to legally place bets on American football games this fall without leaving the state shouldn’t get their hopes up. Massachusetts sports betting looks like it could be months away based on legislators’ comments and the lack of action taken on one proposal.

Massachusetts sports betting hearings

The Massachusetts Legislature goes on recess in August, just six weeks away. The only activity on the issue of sports betting has been a couple of hearings.

On May 28, members of both chambers heard from several parties interested in sports betting legalization. Among them were casino executives, DraftKings, FanDuel, MLB, the NBA, the state lottery and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The legislature scheduled a public forum on the topic for the following day. The intent of the forums was largely informational. Legislators have conveyed a similar theme.

Reasons for delay

State Sen. Eric Lesser, the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, which scheduled the hearings, made it clear of his stance on the timeliness of the legislature acting on sports betting for WAMC.

“It’s very complicated… I think in Massachusetts we want to be deliberate, we want to be thorough and I think we want a product and a law that is fashioned that takes all these nuances into consideration.”

Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo¬†appointed a committee to study the ramifications of legal sports betting. No timetable for the committee to report its findings has been given. Action from the state’s governor, Charlie Baker, prompted the formation of that committee.

Baker’s sports betting proposal

Baker introduced H.68 in January. The House assigned it to the committee Lesser chairs on Jan. 22. The bill hasn’t seen any action besides the aforementioned hearings since.

The committee hasn’t scheduled anything else on the matter. With the August recess so close, it’s unlikely that will change.

Baker’s bill includes a licensing structure for the state’s casinos and online-only operators like Boston-based DraftKings. Although the hearing sought input from MLB and the NBA, Baker’s bill does not mandate the use of official data or require sportsbooks to pay a royalty to the leagues.

The tax rate in Baker’s bill is 10% for land-based wagers and 12.5% on mobile bets. Fantasy sports would be taxed at the same rate as mobile bets.

Massachusetts sports betting’s future

Although the likelihood of sports betting legalization in time for the start of the next New England Patriots season is low, it is possible the activity could be legal in time for Super Bowl LIV.

The Legislature will reconvene in January 2020. The process of sending Baker’s bill back to him could take a mere few days.

That’s based on legislators moving quickly, however. So far, that has not been the case on this topic.

What’s more feasible is that sports betting in Massachusetts could be legal in time for the start of the 2021 Patriots season. That would give legislators nearly the balance of the current term to finish their studies and debate the details.

Massachusetts residents who have already been planning on traveling to nearby Rhode Island to place bets shouldn’t break those plans. Opportunities to do that more locally aren’t coming soon.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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