Committee Meeting Renews Hope for Massachusetts Sports Betting

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The Massachusetts Senate’s lead negotiator said Thursday that the conference committee would work hard to send a compromised wagering bill to the governor.

The conference committee met for the first time on Thursday after it was formed on May 19 to work out a final bill after both chambers of the legislature failed to do so.

The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill in April that was entirely different from the one cleared by the House before.

The six-member committee includes three members from each chamber. The members will decide on thorny issues concerning wagering on college sports, tax rates, and the number of sportsbook licenses.

The House version, which cleared last year, would allow betting on professional and college sports. But the more recent Senate legislation trimmed college betting, increasing the tax rate for retail wagering to 20% from the 12.5% and mobile bets to 35% from 15% approved in the House bill.

Committee Vows to Send the Final Bill to the Governor

The conference committee, which convened its maiden session nearly three weeks after its formation, must resolve all the differences during the coming weeks.

Realizing the tight deadline, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michaels Rodrigues told Rep. Jerald Parisella during Thursday’s conference committee meeting that his team is ready to help the House members of the committee to send a finalized version to the governor.

While addressing his counterpart Parisella, the House’s lead negotiator, Rodrigues said:

“We’ll work very hard to get this for the governor as soon and as quickly as possible and realize that the entirety of my team is here to help you and your team to achieve that goal.”

The state’s legislative session expires July 31.

The conference committee was scheduled to kick off the negotiations at 2 p.m. The virtual meeting was attended by Sens. Eric Lesser, Patrick O’Connor, Rodrigues, and Reps. Aaron Michlewitz, David Muradian, and Jerry Parisella.

Could Committee Do What the Legislature Couldn’t?

Despite the momentary optimism that the committee colleagues lend to the keen supporters, the members face significant issues to address within a short period of time. The committee’s first meeting took place around three weeks after its formation, and they could hardly afford another break before the next meeting.

The biggest challenge the conference members must address is whether to legalize college sports betting. Last year, House Speaker Ron Mariano called any proposed Senate legislation without wagering on college sports would be a deal-breaker.

Mariano told a local news media on Wednesday that he does not have “any expectations” for the conference committee’s compromise agreement. The House Speaker said they’re going to wait and see what happens.

Baker Presses the Legislature to Legalize Wagering

Days before the conference committee’s first meeting, Gov. Charlie Baker pressed the state legislature to legalize sports betting.

He said many people drive out of the Bay State so that they can bet on sports. Without a legal way to do this, the governor said, it is a bit like the marijuana issue. “You just leave the black market there, and you don’t sort of bring it out of the shadows and make it part of the regular crime. I think we should do that.”

As the NBA Finals got underway last week, Baker challenged Gov. Gavin Newsom of California before Game 3 between the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors.

In the absence of legalized wagering, the Massachusetts Governor turned to a milder bet with his Californian counterpart, challenging that his basketball team would win the NBA finals, and asking Newsom to wear a C’s jersey of his choosing, or he would wear one of Newsom’s if Warriors win.

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