With its 2022 session about to end, the Massachusetts state legislature had to go into overtime Monday morning to reach a compromise on a sports betting bill.
Neighboring states New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York have a new competitor now.
After the legislature went past a self-imposed midnight Sunday deadline to reach a deal making legal, regulated sports betting in Massachusetts a reality, the bill – the “Massachusetts Sports Wagering Act” – goes to Gov. Charlie Baker, who is expected to sign.
Compromises Reached on College Sports, Tax Rates
There had been a number of differences between the House and Senate bills with the biggest sticking point being the betting on college sports: The House wanted it, the Senate didn’t. The two bodies reached the compromise that was in front of them the whole time, and which has been tried in other states – bets will be allowed on college sports except on college teams based in Massachusetts. The exception will be if any Massachusetts teams qualify for an NCAA tournament; then residents can wager on those teams.
The wording of the bill at malesgilature.gov defines sporting events which can be wagered on as “a professional sport or athletic event, collegiate sport or athletic event, a collegiate tournament, motor race event, electronic sports event or other event authorized by the commission under this chapter; provided, however, that “sporting event” shall not include: (i) high school and youth sports or athletic events; or (ii) a collegiate sport or athletic event involving 1 or more collegiate teams from the commonwealth unless they are involved in a collegiate tournament.”
There is some gray area. The sport has to be authorized by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, so even when Harvard Squash makes the NCAA Squash Tournament you probably won’t be able to get a wager down, except with a Yalie at the club.
A compromise was also reached on the tax rate, with the numbers being 15% for in person wagering and 20% for mobile/online wagering. The House bill had sought 12.5%/15% while the Senate wanted 20%/35%.
The Senate’s original bill got the edge when it came to a credit card prohibition as the House and Senate agreed that credit cards will not be allowed for betting, so patrons will have to fund their online wagering accounts through their bank accounts. The bill made no reference in the bill to cryptocurrency. The Senate’s desire to ban sports betting during sports telecasts did not make the final bill, though unsolicited pop-up ads are a no-no.
Six Legislators Worked Out Differences
Over the past several weeks, a legislative committee had met to hammer out the differences in the two sports betting bills. The six members were state Senators Michael Rodrigues, Eric Lesser and Patrick O’Connor and state House members Aaron Michlewitz, David Muradian and Jerry Parisella.
House Speaker Ron Mariano said that he believes the state’s three brick-and-mortar casinos will offer sports betting “almost immediately as soon as the laws are signed.” Existing casinos may get a temporary sports betting license to speed up the process by paying an initial licensing fee of $1 million.
Those three facilities – MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor in Everett and Plainridge Park in Plainville – have been ramping up in preparation for sports betting. Those casinos combined for nearly $93.2 million in revenue for June from slot machines and table games.
The full licensing fee will be $5 million for a five-year period. Applications for the license will cost an additional $200,000. These fees will be deposited into Massachusetts’ Sports Wagering Control Fund, to finance the costs of overseeing sports betting in the state, and related funds for Workforce Investment, Gaming Local Aid, Youth Development and a Public Health Trust.
Mariano sent out a tweet after the late night/early morning deal was reached:
I am proud to announce that the Sports Betting Conference Committee has reached an agreement on legislation that will legalize wagering on professional and collegiate sports in Massachusetts, bringing the immense economic benefits of a legal sports betting industry to MA. (1/2)— Speaker Ron Mariano (@RonMariano) August 1, 2022
Who Will Get Massachusetts Sports Betting Licenses?
In addition to the existing casinos, which will receive Category 1 licenses, Massachusetts horse racing tracks will also be eligible for sports licenses as will tracks that offer horse racing or greyhound simulcasting. The tracks will receive Category 2 licenses.
The legislature chose seven for the number of Category 3 online sports betting licenses to operators like FanDuel Sportsbook Massachusetts. This was an odd “compromise” as the Senate originally wanted nine and the House had no limit – but the bill’s wording is that “the commission shall issue no more than 7 category 3 licenses that are not connected to a category 1 or category 2 license.” Online providers do not have to partner with Category 1or Category 2 licensees. The “commission” is the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which is going to be very busy over the coming months because the bill that was passed leaves a lot of the detail work to be decided.
Another passage contained in the final bill: “The commission shall conduct a study into the feasibility of allowing retail locations in the commonwealth to operate sports wagering kiosks.”
State Sen. Eric Lesser Expresses Gratitude
Lesser, the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, released a statement upon the bill’s passage:
“Once signed by the governor, this new law will open a new industry for our Commonwealth, creating jobs and economic growth,” Lesser said. “It will also safeguard consumers and athletes with some of the strongest protections in the country while maintaining the integrity of sports. After four years of painstaking work and research, I want to thank Senate President (Karen) Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chair Rodrigues, Speaker Mariano, and fellow conferees Senator O’Connor, Chair Parisella, House Ways and Means Chair Michlewitz, and Representative Muradian for their collaboration and efforts on this final compromise.”
They had to stop the clock to do it, but Massachusetts betting apps are on the way and the sports-mad state is sure to be one of the nation’s most competitive markets.