Massachusetts took a baby step Thursday toward legalizing sports betting in the state, but it’s too soon to tell whether it was a giant leap for fan-kind. However, residents of Massachusetts, tired of driving to Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York or Connecticut to wager, will take whatever progress they can get.
House and Senate committee members met for the first time Thursday looking to reconcile differences in their Massachusetts sports betting bills. It’s difficult to know whether anything was accomplished as the public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes before the lawmakers present retreated into executive session.
"We’ll work very hard to get this for the governor as soon as and quickly as possible," Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D) said optimistically.
With the NBA Finals between the Celtics and Golden State Warriors being played in Boston this week, it’s unfortunate that bettors can’t use Massachusetts sports betting apps to place wagers. Game 4 is Friday night at TD Garden and the Celtics are favored.
Six Legislators Working on Compromise
Rodrigues, and fellow senators Eric Lesser and Patrick O’Connor, and House members Jerald Parisella, Aaron Michlewitz and David Muradian, are tasked with coming up with a sports betting compromise that will satisfy both chambers. The governor is already on board as saying he wants to see online sports betting in Massachusetts.
“We probably hear more about sports betting from our constituents than just about anything else, so I’m looking forward to working with you, your Senate colleagues and my House colleagues to come to a compromise,” Parisella said to Rodrigues before the video feed shut down and the meeting continued in private.
The legislators may be hearing a lot more about sports betting before it’s legalized because the two bills are different in all areas. Is compromise possible? Sure, but the odds are not good.
Big Differences in the Bills
The House bill allows for wagering on major college sports, the Senate bill doesn’t, and that appears to be a major stumbling block. House Speaker Ron Mariano has previously said that a sports betting bill which doesn’t allow for wagering on the NCAA Basketball Tournament makes no sense, and called the Senate bill “paternalistic.”
Additionally, the House bill sets a tax rate of 12.5% for in-person wagering and 15% for online wagering, the Senate bill’s numbers are 20% and 35%. The Senate bill also prohibits credit card usage, caps the number of online operators at nine (a generous number if they’re prohibiting credit card use), seeks to place widespread limits on TV advertising (including a ban on ads during live sports events), and prohibits sportsbooks in sports arenas.
The House bill has no issue with credit cards, no cap on the number of online sportsbooks, places few restrictions on advertising, allows for sportsbooks at sports arenas. The Senate bill also directs 9% of revenues to addiction treatment programs.
The two chambers have until July 31 to reach a compromise and send a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been pushing for sports betting. Massachusetts sports fans hoping to bet on Patriots games this NFL season should probably hope the price of gas comes down.