Massachusetts Follows Maine In Passing Sports Betting Bill

Bettors in the Bay State may see sports betting live in the state as early as July.

Last week, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill which will legalize sports betting in the state. The legislation will permit people who are physically present in the state and of legal gambling age to wager on professional sports while prohibiting betting on collegiate level sports. 

Alongside college wagering, the bill will prohibit “advertising, marketing, and branding through certain identified promotional items that, as determined by the commission, tend to increase the likelihood of problem gambling, which may include giveaways, coupons, or promotional gaming credits.”

The principal focus of the Senate’s bill is to maximize tax revenue while minimizing problem gambling and exposure to influential marketing material. The bill establishes a high tax rate on retail and online sportsbooks and implements consumer protection measures to prevent the development of harmful gambling habits. 

Existing licensees will be able to hold a Category 1 sports betting license for a $5m application fee. These licensees – Plainridge Park Casino (Penn National Gaming), Encore Boston Harbor (Wynn), and Spingfield Casino (MGM) – can offer both retail and online betting.

Six Category 2 online-only sports betting licenses will go to the state Lottery Commission, who will issue them out via a “competitive application process”.

Gov. Charlie Baker will also be liaising with the state’s federally-recognized tribes to negotiate new Class III gaming compacts that will include sports betting.

Prior Proposals

Though its approval has attracted the attention of sports fans in the state, the Senate bill is not the first sports wagering legislation to pass since PASPA was overturned in 2018. 

A bill was proposed and approved by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in July 2021, receiving a 156-3 majority in favor of legalizing sports betting. However, unlike the Senate bill, HB933 supports the introduction of college betting in the state, as well as lower tax rates and more leniency around advertising.

Senate Bill Versus House Bill

Advertising

While the House bill is pretty relaxed about advertising restrictions, the Senate bill proposes a whistle-to-whistle ban on advertising. This would mean that ads can’t be shown immediately before, during, or after a live sporting event broadcast before the 9pm watershed. 

The Senate bill would also ban online marketing, unless at least 85% of the audience is perceived to be over 21 years of age.

Tax

Tax rates proposed by the Senate bill are 20% for retail sportsbooks and 35% for online sportsbooks. This would put Massachusetts on the higher end of the tax scale compared ot the rest of the US. Meanwhile, the 2021 House bill proposed a 12.5% retail tax and a 15% mobile tax rate.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr introduced an amendment to match the Senate bill to the rates of the House bill, but it was rejected 35 to 4. 

College Betting

The stance on college betting is the fundamental difference between the two bills. Whereas the House bill would allow wagering on professional and collegiate sports, the Senate prohibits college betting altogether, offering only professional sports wagering. 

On the one hand are those who agree with Marlene Warner, executive director of the Massachusett Council on Gaming and Health, that viewing “an 18-year-old as a commodity that needs to be gambled on” is a problem that collegiate betting would exacerbate.

On the other hand – and Warner herself acknowledges this – there is such a high demand for wagering on college sports that many residents in the state are already doing so illegally via offshore sportsbooks and illegal bookmakers. 

Negotiation

A joint conference committee has been formed to scrutinize the conflicting bills and negotiate a solution that both the Senate and House chambers can agree on. While there are many amendments to be made, the two bills agree that the legalization of sports wagering is necessary to keep millions of dollars of tax revenue from leaving the state.

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