On-Again, Off-Again Massachusetts Sport Betting Bill is On-Again

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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

The legal sports betting saga in the state of Massachusetts has been an interesting one to say the least and Thursday’s developments have put the on-again, off-again possibility of a platform launching in the state for at least a portion of the upcoming NFL season on-again. For the second time in less than a year, the Massachusetts House voted 156-3 to approve and send a version of a legal sports betting Bill to the Senate. The first time, the Bill stalled in the Senate and went nowhere. This time, the Bill was heavily amended and passed in an astounding 20 minutes.

It is up to the Senate once again to sign off on House Bill 3977 and get it sent off to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker to sign into law. Once there, it is seen as just a formality that the Governor rubber stamps it. Barker himself unsuccessfully drafted his own bill earlier this year that would legalize sports betting in the state. He has already included the potential revenue from such a platform in his state’s budget.

House Bill 3977

House Bill 3977 is the result of tireless work and a slew of amendments to the original House Bill that was not satisfactory to the Senate. The Bill is essentially a combination of the 12 previous Bills rolled into one with the best parts taken from each.Under the new Bill, there will be three different types of licenses – casinos would be one category, racetracks would be another and mobile sportsbooks being the last.

Betting would be permitted on both professional and college sports for those 21 years and older. The wording of the current Bill will allow for an uncapped number of mobile licenses available in the state, three skins for casinos and one skin per racetrack. Mobile operators would be allowed to operate “untethered” – without having a relationship with an existing casino or racetrack.

The tax rate will be set at 12.5% for retail and 15% for mobile sports betting operators. eSports will be included under the new draft as will the need to use official league data. Application fee is $100,000 with a license fee of $5 million for five years and another $5 million renewal fee for five years. If an operator receives a $1 million temporary license, the initial fee becomes $4 million.

Broad Support

The Massachusetts Senate seems like the only roadblock for a legal sports betting platform in the state. There is broad support from lawmakers, the state’s pro sports teams, betting providers and even citizens who have been looking around at surrounding states that currently host their own platform and wondering when they will get to place a bet legally from the comfort of their homes.

“It is time for us to send a message to our friends in the Senate that today we vote unanimously, as a House,” said Rep. Michael Soter. “And I’m asking you, as a colleague on the border of the state of Rhode Island, that we unanimously send a message to our colleagues in the Senate saying that the people, the people we work for, want this legislation.

“Turn on the radio, turn on the news. Everybody wants this legislation. We don’t have to go to a ballot or find out where people in the commonwealth are, we know where they are. Listen to them, you represent them.”

The Ramifications

Massachusetts boasts a population of nearly 7 million, which ranks 15th in the nation. It is the rabid nature of the sports fans in the state and the fact that there is a reported robust illegal market already operating there that has made Massachusetts one of the more exciting potential legal sports betting markets. “Sports betting in Massachusetts isn’t new – it’s alive and well and has been for quite some time,” Sen. Brendan Crighton, top legal sports betting advocate said. “… I think it’s time for a change and I do believe we’re headed in that direction.”

Jerald Parisella, the House chair on the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies said that $60 million in annual tax revenue is a conservative estimate for a Massachusetts market off the bat with those numbers rising as the state’s betting scene matures. Those are big numbers for state coffers that were seriously drained during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Senate’s Hands

Bettors, sports teams, lawmakers and even the Governor will now wait on the state Senate that has already dealt the legal sports betting industry in Massachusetts a set back. At this point, a launch prior to the 2021 NFL season is already out of reach because of the lack of action earlier this year by the Upper Chamber of the Massachusetts government.

Where House Bill 3977 goes is anyone’s guess. There have been many chances for lawmakers to get something done and send a complete Bill to the Governor’s desk, but nothing has materialized so far. Maybe, just maybe, Massachusetts bettors will get a chance to bet on the Super Bowl – if the stars align and the Senate finally acts.