Massachusetts House Approves Sports Betting Bill… And More

For the first time the Massachusetts House has approved of a sport betting bill by a large bipartisan majority. The bill would legalize wagering on professional and college sports, esports, video games and car racing, and expands gaming into some veterans organizations. But will it fly in the Senate? Senate sponsor Eric Lesser (l.) says the time has come.

Massachusetts House Approves Sports Betting Bill… And More

The Massachusetts House voted 156-3 on July 22 to authorize sports betting in the Bay State. It now goes to the Senate.

But a last-minute addition that would allow up to five slot machines at some veterans organizations like the VFW could be a problem.

Rep. Jerald Parisella, who co-chairs the legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, commented after the vote, “Now people can bet in Rhode Island and New Hampshire; Connecticut and New York have legalized sports betting. It’s all around us. Massachusetts is passionate about sports. Let’s take advantage of it,”

Licenses would be in three categories: casinos, racetracks and mobile operators. Casinos, simulcasting facilities, and horse racing tracks could apply for licenses. These facilities could have from one to three mobile sports betting platforms. In addition, mobile-only operators could also seek licenses. Gross gaming revenue from bets make in person would be taxed at 12.5 percent and at 15 percent for mobile wagers. Another 1 percent would be tacked on wagers inside the state to help fund sports betting “security and integrity.”

Supporters estimate sports betting could generate $70 million in tax revenues each year.

A recent poll commissioned by the Encore Boston Harbor and Plainridge Park Casino showed that 61 percent of Bay State voters supported sports betting. It has been legalized in the surrounding states of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York. A total of 30 U.S. states have sports betting laws.

The two casinos issued a joint statement praising the legislature’s work so far: “We appreciate the hard work by members of the legislature to bring legalized sports betting to the citizens of Massachusetts. As we learned last month, an overwhelming majority of voters support keeping the revenue generated by sports betting in the commonwealth.” It concluded, “We look forward to working with legislators on this important issue and getting it across the finish line as soon as possible.”

The House bill would put sports betting regulations under the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

While wagers could be placed on college sporting events, bets on individual performance would not be allowed.

That could be a sticking point for the more conservative Senate. Debates on previous versions of the bill showed the Senate to be unconvinced, particularly about betting on amateur sports. And the expansion of gaming to veterans organizations could also be a deal breaker.

In the past, the Senate President Karen Spilka and Majority Leader Cynthia Creem opposed sports betting.

“There will be a lot of discussion,” Spilka said in March. “I know a lot of members have had various ideas and thoughts about it, whether to do it or not do it, or how to do it. So there will be a lot of debate and discussion about it.”

Governor Charlie Baker is pushing for the legalization because he penciled in $35 million to his budget for 2022 attributable to sports betting.

Senator Eric Lesser, the sponsor of the Senate bill and chair of the Economic Development Committee, thinks it can be passed.

“I think we’re ready,” he said. “Look, it’s been three years since the Supreme Court allowed states to move forward on sports betting. Since then you went from two states—New Jersey and Nevada—that had sports betting markets to 30. And again, almost all of our neighbors in almost all the states in the Northeast now have it. So it’s time. It’s time for Massachusetts to do this.”