Whether Massachusetts legalizes sports betting by the end of the month is a hot topic at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference taking place in this week in Boston.
Massachusetts state Rep. Jerald Parisella, a member of the conference committee tasked with working out the sports wagering differences between the House and Senate proposals, discussed the effort Friday during his opening address at the conference and in a subsequent interview with PlayMA.
“I don’t think I hear more about any other topic from my constituents than, ‘Jerry, when the hell are you going to get us legal sports betting?’ ” Parisella said. “I mean, we’re doing it already, so let’s get a legalized, regulated market. I’m hopeful we can get it done before the session ends.”
Conference committee update
“We’ve had a lot of exchanging of ideas back and forth and proposals,” Parisella said. “How about we change this, we’ll accept this; we change that, you’ll accept that. So just a lot of that sort of horse-trading going on right now.”
Three members of each legislative chamber make up the MA sports betting conference committee:
- Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, chairperson
- Sen. Michael Rodrigues, chairperson
- Sen. Eric Lesser
- Rep. Parisella
- Sen. Patrick O’Connor
- Rep. David Muradian
“I like Mike Rodrigues,” Parisella said. “He’s a good guy to work with. So I think it’s been good. It’s just trying to figure out our policy differences.”
Parisella admitted some of that horse-trading could involve issues outside of sports betting. For the Senate to give on an issue such as allowing college wagering, it might take the House to give the Senate something it wants in the budget or economic development bill.
It just so happens Parisella and Lesser serve as co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies that is working on an economic development bill. Michlewitz chairs the Ways and Means Committee working on the budget.
“There’s a lot of bills pending in both chambers that each chamber would like to get done, so it’s possible,” Parisella said. “There’s always that stuff going on at the end of the session. So that stuff may be happening at a higher level, but I’m focused purely on sports betting legislation.”
Main MA sports betting issues
Parisella said the biggest differences the conference committee needs to work out are whether to allow betting on college sports and the tax rate.
The House bill permits college wagers while prohibiting prop bets on college athletes. The Senate bill disallows all college betting. The Senate put a high tax rate of 35% on mobile wagers and 20% on in-person wagers. The House’s tiered tax rate is 15% for online wagers and 12.5% for in-person wagers.
Parisella gave his take on allowing college betting:
“My philosophy is you want everything out in the open. And by giving people the ability to bet legally on college, you can see if there’s been any kind of irregularities in the bets. People are betting a thousand dollars a week on Boston College, and suddenly it’s a million dollars, you can say hey maybe there’s something going on here that we need to look at. There were a couple sports shaving scandals with Boston College back in the day. So this kind of stuff could be able to capture that by having it out in the open.”
Another issue is the Senate proposal bans advertising for sports betting during sporting events. Parisella said he appreciates the Senate’s focus on consumer protection, but he thinks an advertising ban would run into constitutional and practical issues.
“I think the goal is all laudable,” Parisella said. “The age of both bills is for 21 to bet, so we’re trying not to target those under 21. But how do you do that effectively without circumventing the constitution?”
Parisella doesn’t see how the state could stop advertisements in the commonwealth that would air in other states. Counsel for the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association made the same point to PlayMA.
“We have NESN, the New England Sports Network, owned by the Red Sox that telecasts Bruins and Red Sox games,” Parisella said. “So do they show an ad that can be seen in Rhode Island and New Hampshire but not Massachusetts? I just don’t know the logistics of how that would work. And for nationally televised football games, do they black out the ad that’s coming to Massachusetts? There’s just a lot of issues with that.”
End of July or bust
The sports betting conference committee must come up with a conference report by the end of the month. Each chamber would then have to vote “yes” or “no” on the report by July 31.
After July 31, Parisella said any member of the Legislature can object to taking up legislation to prevent passage. Certainly a bill related to gambling would get at least one objection.
“So we’ve got to get it done before that, and I’m really hopeful,” Parisella said. “We’re meeting all the time. We’re creating practical solutions.”
Despite a busy end of session with many more pressing priorities, Parisella thinks lawmakers will make time to discuss sports betting over the final three weeks.
“I talk to folks from Spectrum and other groups, and they say Massachusetts will be a great sports betting market,” Parisella said. “We love our sports in Massachusetts. And so we’re trying to do what we can to make it happen. There’s a lot of things going on and we’re trying to get it all done. I want to get sports betting done for my constituents. That’s my goal. So I’m going to try to heck to make sure it does.”
More focus on Massachusetts sports betting
Before Parisella’s address, Bradford Hill, commissioner of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, provided welcome remarks at the conference.
Hill, a former member of the Massachusetts House who voted in favor of the sports betting legislation last year, said he believed the MGC would be able to move quickly to implement regulations. However, he didn’t want to provide a timeframe before seeing the final legislation.
DraftKings CEO Jason Robins gave a keynote luncheon address Friday. The sportsbook operator is based in Boston.