Massachusetts Sees Influx of 14 Sports Betting Bills

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Massachusetts sees piles of sports betting bills in both chambers to be discussed in the 2021 session that would adjourn on December 31. As many as 14 sports betting proposals are on the legislative agenda after Friday’s deadline for bill filing in the Bay State. While according to other reports, there are eighteen bills in total, touching the margins of gaming or sports events, including nine bills specifically seeking to legalize sports betting.

Lawmakers now seem to have plenty of options to select from, with no excuse for lack of time. As more and more proposals keep pouring in each legislative arm, the newly introduced bills would apparently allow for in-person wagering at kiosks at bars, restaurants, sports arenas, and other physical places. In any case, most experts believe this year would witness the eventual legalization of sports betting, both in-person and online, in the Bay State.

Which Sports Bills Are The Favorites?

Among the most talked-about proposals, pro-sports betting Governor Charlie Baker has his own proposal, MA HD 678, that would bring legal sports betting in the Commonwealth. Then there are two other bills, HD 3606 and SD 2237, presented by Rep. Orlando Ramos and Sen. Adam Gomez simultaneously for the House and Senate, respectively. The bills propose the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) as the regulator and licensing authority, with Class 1 and Class 2 licenses being awarded to operators through this regulatory body.

However, SD 2365 remains to be one of the hottest and most recent proposals for sports betting legalization in Massachusetts. Sponsored by Sen. Eric Lesser, SD 2365 was filed Friday. On Monday, Lesser summarized his proposal during a 27-minute Zoom press conference. The Senator’s bill creates a framework for both in-person and online betting on professional sports at the Bay State’s land-based casinos, racetracks, as well as standalone mobile licenses. However, SD 2365 would also include some of the strictest rules to protect both athletes and bettors.

Details of SD 2365

Like HD 3606 and SD 2237, SD 2365 would also empower the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as a regulator, but with three distinct categories rather than two. Casinos and slot parlors would be eligible for a Category 1 license, allowing for three mobile skins for each in-person sportsbook. Plainridge Park, the only racing track in Massachusetts, will be able to apply for a Category 2 license for a land-based sportsbook and one branded mobile application. Six Category 3 licenses could also be authorized, which would enable sports betting via a mobile application or other online platforms.

Anyone of 21 years or above would be allowed to place legal wagers on professional and college sports under this bill, which would levy a 20% tax on Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) for retail sportsbooks and a 25% tax rate on GGR for mobile sportsbooks and Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) operations. One of the most significant features of SD 2365 is its consumer protection initiatives, as it requires 5% of proceeds from legalized sports betting to be reimbursed into the public health trust fund. That revenue aims to assist social service and public health programs addressing issues like compulsive sports gambling.

Some Bills Not Good Enough

Although none of the sports betting proposals are bad, some have minor issues which makes them unlikely to get the industry moving.

HD 3786 and SD 192, put forward by Rep. David Biele and Sen. Michael Bready, respectively, both seek fewer than 10 operators in the state and propose an application fee for each sportsbook of only $250,000. Similarly, SD 718 from Sen. Michael Rush has a licensing fee of merely $100,000. Compared to the $10 million licensing fees suggested in SD 117 and companion bill HD 2079, it is clear the former proposals will not be as beneficial for the state, whose main reason for legalizing the industry is to cash in quickly to combat the economic downturn caused by the global pandemic.

Some bills also fall short as they will take too long to pass. There is pressure on Massachusetts to legalize sports betting quickly to stay competitive with bordering states, and so bills that would elongate the progress are likely to be cut short. That’s exactly what HD 118 and HD 119 from Rep. Bradford Hill would do. Both bills call for a commission that would study sports betting to be established. The commission would have to meet within 30 days of passage and have recommended legislation ready within 120 days, substantially drawing out the legalization process.

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