Massachusetts Senate to Vote on Amended Sports Bill Today

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The Massachusetts Senate will discuss the sports betting bill on Thursday after it cleared a key committee following months of inaction.

On Friday, the State’s Senate Ways and Means Committee agreed to a new language for S. 2844. It is a huge change from the version the House approved last year.

If the upper chamber approves the MA sports betting bill, the lawmakers will have three months to work on the final bill to send to Gov. Charlie Baker, who wants to see legalized sports betting in the state.

H 3993 was approved by the House last year to regulate sports betting in the Bay State. Considering the huge difference between the two bills, it is yet to see how the state lawmakers come to the common grounds to get sports betting started in Massachusetts.

What are the Key Differences Between the two Bills?

There are apparently irreconcilable differences between the amended H 3993 and S 2844, approved by the House and the Senate, respectively.

  • The Senate version approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee does not allow betting on college sports. Though the House bill allowed college betting, House Speaker Ron Mariano had told the media last year that the difference over college betting should not be a deal-breaker. However, he did not comment on the Senate proposal.
  • The Senate version calls for fewer sports betting licenses than the House. The upper chamber would propose nine online and retail licenses, three for casinos and the remaining ones for the competitive bid. The House proposal had called for at least 11 mobile licenses – two more than the Senate proposal.
  • Another key difference between the two versions is the tax rate. Senate would propose a 35% tax rate for online and 20% for in-person sports betting, with no promo deductions. The House had approved 15% for online and 12.5% for retail wagering – including promo deductions.

What’s Next?

The Massachusetts lawmakers in both chambers appear unyielding, which may lead to establishing a conference committee to iron out the issues.

Even if a conference committee agrees to a joint plan, Massachusetts sports betting might not launch by this year or by the 2023 Super Bowl.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has already begun some background work on betting rules. But it takes months from processing the regulations to launching mobile platforms. For a comparison, Ohio – the most recently legalized state – is likely to take a year to go live.

Though some states with established casino markets have fast-paced the process from legalization to the eventual launch within four months. However, the process in Bay State cannot start until after a final bill comes out of the legislature and the governor signs it into law.

Baker explicitly supports legalized sports betting, so he’s expected to sign it whenever he has the chance to do so.

How Have We Reached Here?

Massachusetts lawmakers have been discussing sports wagering since the Supreme Court annulled PASPA in 2018. But they have never been able to iron out their differences over a final piece of legislation.

Last July, the Massachusetts House passed a sports betting bill by a 156-3 vote. But the difference between the two chambers over sports betting rules resurfaced last week when the Senate Ways and Means Committee differed drastically.

In-state college betting is among the most significant differences.

The Senate proposal bans wagering on college sports, meaning the state residents would not be allowed to wager on local college football or the state’s basketball teams.

University officials from Massachusetts colleges and universities have been speaking against allowing college betting.

If the House proposal becomes law and the residents are allowed to wager on collegiate sports, the Bay State could generate nearly $60 million in sports betting revenue.

Without college sports betting, the Senate bill is estimated to generate somewhere between $25 million and $35 million.

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