As the calendar turns to a new year, so too does the pessimism of Massachusetts lawmakers flip to optimism in regard to passing sports betting legislation.
Rep. David Muradian is hopeful that the Massachusetts Senate will play ball on sports betting legislation in 2022. Of course, he would have said the same entering last year.
The House did its part by passing a bill in July. But the Senate never took up the issue following the House passage.
Entering 2022, the House bill still sits in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Legislation introduced in 2021 carries over to the second year of the two-year legislative session.
Muradian played a part in the bill’s crafting as ranking minority member of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. Speaking to PlayMA, he explained his frustration with the Senate inactivity:
“We’ve missed a whole football season at this point, and that’s more revenue that you could have brought into the Commonwealth. In the House version, we set up a local-aid trust fund, so that’s going back to all 351 cities and towns. We’re literally leaving money on the streets or in the cars as people go to New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut – anywhere else but Massachusetts – to bet. It’s unbelievably frustrating, but at the same time you can see that there’s such an opportunity there.”
Why 2022 could be different for sports betting efforts
Entering 2022, there are real reasons for optimism that this year will be different for sports betting efforts in Massachusetts. They include:
- Sen. Eric Lesser, the Senate chair for the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, is running for lieutenant governor. He told Mass Live that he hopes to get sports betting done before the campaign.
- Gov. Charlie Baker announced he would not seek reelection in 2022. Baker has introduced sports betting bills the past two years and included sports wagering in previous executive budgets. This is his last chance to get sports betting legalized while in office.
- The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is now pushing for sports betting. Commissioner Brad Hill helped get the House bill passed last year as a representative. After moving over to the MGC, he took part in ordering a study on sports betting to help spark Senate action.
- DraftKings is still headquartered in Boston. How much longer can Massachusetts neglect one of its major businesses?
- Legislation is ready to go. In addition to the House bill, Lesser’s S 269 sits in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
- Massachusetts is surrounded by online sports betting. With New York commencing online sports wagering this week and Connecticut late in 2021, all states around Massachusetts other than Vermont have online sports betting. All Massachusetts residents have to do is cross a border in any direction to bet.
- The legislative support is there. Nobody doubts that the Senate would pass sports betting legislation if put to a vote. It’s just a matter of getting past the political gamesmanship and working out the details.
“I think if you take a straw poll, you’ll see there’s a really strong level of support for sports betting with Senators,” Muradian said. “It’s just that we need to get it on the floor.”
Key issues for MA sports betting legislation
The bill passed by the House serves as a starting point for Massachusetts sports betting negotiations in 2022.
Key details include:
- Legalizes retail and mobile sports betting for the state’s three commercial casinos and up to three horse/greyhound racetracks.
- Casinos can have up to three online skins, while tracks are limited to one skin.
- Licenses cost $5 million every five years, with an initial additional fee of $1 million.
- Online operators also pay $5 million for a Category 3 license, whether they partner with a gaming facility or not.
- Sets the tax rate at 12.5% for retail wagering and 15% for online wagering.
- Allows wagering on college sports and esports.
- Online operators pay $1 million annually into a Public Health Trust Fund for programs addressing compulsive gambling.
- For in-state sporting events, operators must pay 1% of bets placed on the game to the facility to pay for security and other measures to protect the athlete and integrity of the games.
- Includes studies on participation of minority-owned businesses and sports betting kiosks at retail locations.
“The House passed a wonderful version of the bill that I was very fortunate enough to have a hand in,” Muradian said. “And now it’s in the Senate, so we need to try to do our part and lobby them to get it on the docket.”
Conference committee likely to work out differences
If each chamber passes sports betting legislation with differing language, lawmakers form a conference committee to work out the differences.
Muradian expects Massachusetts sports betting will end up in a conference committee.
“I would imagine they’re not going to adopt the bill verbatim,” Muradian said. “But I think it’s a great bill. I think they should. But my guess is a conference committee will have to be established to work out any of the differences.”
Tax rate and wagering on college sports figure to be hotly debated topics between the chambers. Lesser’s bill includes a ban on college betting and higher tax rates. It taxes online wagering at 25% and retail betting at 20%.
Muradian expects whether or not to allow betting on college sports could be one of the biggest hangups.
“To me, it makes sense to have collegiate gaming in,” Muradian said. “I can’t see many people who would cross from an unregulated industry to the regulated, and back and forth. If you want to bet on your college sports and it’s not offered in Massachusetts, you stay in your dark market.”
Time frame for sports betting negotiations
Lawmakers could move on sports betting any time between now and the end of July.
But, with no chatter so far, an early-year passage seems unlikely.
Budget season begins at the end of the month with the release of the executive budget. Baker must submit his budget by Jan. 26. Last year, Baker initially included $35 million from sports betting revenue in the budget.
The House passes its budget in April and the Senate in May. It’s possible lawmakers opt to include sports betting in the budget.
“The budget is an unbelievable vehicle to get legislation passed,” Muradian said. “Maybe there’s an opportunity that someone tucks sports betting into the budget as an outside section.”
If sports betting makes the budget, legalization would occur in May. And that gives more time for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to get sports betting up and running in the state during football season.
If sports betting isn’t in the budget, passage is most likely in July. Although the legislative session goes all year, the deadline for bills requiring a roll call vote is July 31.
The conference committee also would need to finish its work by July 31.
“I know that when we have our conference committee members assigned, we’ll be ready to negotiate in good faith and hopefully get a good product out there that benefits all the residents,” Muradian said. “But we still have to get over the hurdle of the Senate actually bringing it to the floor for a vote.”