As the clock ticks toward Sunday’s deadline to pass legislation, executives from Massachusetts’ three casinos wrote lawmakers this week and made their case for legal sports betting legislation.
Encore Boston Harbor President Jenny Holaday, MGM Springfield President and COO Chris Kelley and Plainridge Park Casino Vice President and General Manager North Grounsell sent the letter Monday to members of the Massachusetts Senate and House.
“With less than a week remaining in the legislative session, we respectfully implore you to seize on the opportunity to level the playing field in this hyper-competitive industry,” the letter read. “We remain readily available to share our policy and operational expertise and working with you towards the establishment of a successful sports wagering market in the Commonwealth.”
Differences in MA sports betting bill
The state’s House and Senate passed dueling versions of a MA sports betting bill. The non-conforming versions led to the formation of a conference committee. Six lawmakers – three from each chamber – are in negotiations to produce an agreed-upon bill.
Lawmakers face a Sunday deadline to pass a bill in this legislative session and send it to Gov. Charlie Baker. The governor is a longtime proponent of sports betting.
The biggest sticking points between the two versions are betting on college sports and tax rates.
The House version 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.
Other differences in the bill:
- 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.
Casino execs: We’re at a disadvantage
This week’s letter from the casinos noted that 35 states have made sports betting legal, including Bay State neighbors Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island. No commonwealth resident is more than an hour’s drive to a state with legal sports betting, the letter read.
“As a result, our competitors in these states are now offering a significant amenity and service we are prohibited from offering in Massachusetts and capturing the Commonwealth’s entertainment dollars once again,” the casino executives wrote.
The executives also pointed out a lack of legal sports betting is leading commonwealth residents to betting out of state or in the black market, costing Massachusetts “much-needed” tax revenue and hampering the casinos’ ability to build their workforce.
Lawmakers offer pessimistic tone
Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano and Gov. Baker didn’t sound optimistic last week regarding the prospects of lawmakers finding common ground on a sports betting compromise.
“Realistically, I don’t know. I don’t know,” Mariano told reporters. “We’re far apart.”
“You know, it’s hard to tell at the end of session sort of what is or what isn’t going to get through the gate at the end,” Baker said during an interview on GBH News’ Boston Public Radio.
Senate President Karen Spilka, however, sounded more positive this week.
“Believe it or not, we’re looking at sports betting, and I hope we do get something done,” Spilka told reporters Monday, according to MassLive.com.