Massachusetts sports betting has been an item of discussion in the Boston capital nearly since the Supreme Court in 2018 ruled that states — not the federal government — should determine their own individual laws on sports gambling. But with the legislature’s 2021 session set to conclude in less than a month, some lawmakers say it’s time to act and pass a sports gambling statute.
Legal sports betting, both in-person and online, recently went live in Connecticut. Now, four of the five states Massachusetts shares a border with have regulated sports wagering. People in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire can place a sports bet legally, but those inside Massachusetts cannot.
It’s time to do something,” declared Massachusetts Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Hampden) during an online discussion hosted this week by the State House News Service. “This has absolutely been a top-tier issue. It’s been something many of us have been working on, on almost a daily basis. And there’s very active conversations going on.”
Only 21 days remain until the Massachusetts Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year. Numerous concerns regarding the authorization of sports betting remain among lawmakers.
College Betting Key Issue
Numerous attempts to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts have failed over the past three years. But earlier this year — House Bill 3977 — easily won approval in the lower legislative chamber with a 156-3 vote.
HB 3977 would grant the state’s three casinos, as well as state horse racetracks, retail sportsbook privileges. HB 3977 would also sanction up to three mobile sports betting skins at a cost of $5 million each.
The legislation, which gained House approval in July, hasn’t been embraced in the Senate due to its inclusion of college sports. Lesser says the state should begin with odds and lines on professional sports only.
“Pro sports teams want legalized gambling,” Lesser stated. “Why don’t we get started where there’s a consensus?”
Lesser has introduced his own sports betting legislation in the Senate. His bill — S.269 — would also allow the state’s three commercial casinos and horse racetracks to operate sports betting, plus permit online wagering. But a major difference is that all amateur sporting events — including college athletics — would be prohibited.
Another major difference is the proposed tax rate on gross revenue stemming from sports betting. The House sports betting bill seeks to impose a 12.5 percent fee on land-based sports betting, and 15 percent online.
Lesser’s bill suggests an effective tax of 20-25 percent on sports betting income.
Money Flowing Out
While Massachusetts lawmakers must still come to terms on how to regulate sports betting, they generally agree that it’s time to act in order to keep gaming dollars inside the state. If the legislature can pass a sports betting bill, it will likely find support in the governor’s office.
There are a whole bunch of states that are pretty far around the bases, down the field,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said this week.
“I know people who live in Massachusetts who drive to New Hampshire just to do it,” the governor continued regarding sports betting. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t just incorporate the very basic framework that’s been adopted by most of these places so that people in Massachusetts can play and generate the revenue associated with it and make sure some of it gets put to good use to help people who are dealing with gambling issues and other issues like that.”
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