This year has been busy for efforts to legalize Massachusetts sports betting, but so far it hasn’t been a productive one.
Residents in the western and southwestern parts of the state still have to place their wagers in New York or Connecticut. In the north, New Hampshire is happy to take money from Massachusetts gamblers and in the southeast, Rhode Island welcomes them with open arms.
Massachusetts’ lame-duck Gov. Charlie Baker is happy to sign a sports betting bill if one can get on his desk before he leaves office. But House Bill 3993 died in the Senate in 2021 and Senate Bill 269 fared no better. Senate President Karen Spilka doesn’t seem to be in any rush to get a sports betting bill passed.
But here’s where Massachusetts is: In April, the Senate Ways and Means committee worked its political magic on the House bill and passed it through to the entire body. The Senate then passed its version of the bill on April 28.
But there’s still no agreement between the Senate and the House on the issues that plague sports betting in every state legislature: How will entities get licensed, how many, how much will they pay, and how much will the state tax them once they’re up and running. Also an issue: Will Massachusetts residents be able to bet on Boston College, UMass, Harvard and the state’s other college sports teams?
Patrick O’Connor, Eric Lesser and Michael Rodrigues and are the three Senators named to a conference committee to work with House members David Muradian, Aaron Michlewitz and Jerry Parisella to reach an agreement.
The two bodies differ on allowing bets on college sports and on the tax rate. The House proposal would impose a 12.5% tax on retail sportsbooks and 15% on online operators; the Senate version proposes rates of 20% and 35%, respectively.
American Gaming Association president and CEO Bill Miller wrote a letter in May asking Massachusetts to allow betting on college sports and impose a "reasonable tax rate" on operators. And New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said at a National Governors Association event that he encourages Massachusetts to adopt legal, regulated sports betting.
Extra Money in State Coffers
What makes Massachusetts a little different from other states desperate to raise more tax revenue is that in 2021 the state collected $5 billion more in tax revenue than it was expecting. Massachusetts actually has a surplus. It’s a nice problem to have.
At present, the state has three casinos, Encore Boston Harbor from Wynn, Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville from Penn National Gaming, and the MGM Springfield. Those casinos came about because in 2011, casino gaming was allowed in the state after passage of the Expanded Gaming Act, which allowed for one casino in each of three designated territories.
In February, Wynn Resorts made a deal with Realty Income to sell the real estate involved with Encore but Wynn will continue to manage the property and reserved some land to expand it.
Fourth Casino on the Way?
The Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe is seeking to build a fourth casino on tribal land in Taunton, about 40 miles south of Boston and 20 miles east of Providence, Rhode Island.
As is normal in many states, the tribe is fending off a lawsuit, here from the NIMBYs of Taunton who claim a casino will overwhelm the city and its population of a bit under 60,000.
An additional portion of the lawsuit claims that the U.S. Department of the Interior had no right to give the 321-acre plot of land to the Wampanoag Indians in the first place, because the tribe was not recognized by the Federal Government in 1934, when Congress enacted the Indian Reorganization Act. The Wampanoag plan to pursue their venture. Additionally, The Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head is looking to build a smaller casino on the ritzy vacation island of Martha’s Vineyard.