New amendments

Massachusetts Senate passes sports betting bill; must now iron out differences with House

Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues on Thursday's session.
Reading time 2:27 min

The Massachusetts State Senate passed its version of a sports betting bill on Thursday. However, given the proposal differs in a number of points from legislation passed by the House of Representatives last year, both chambers must now work on a new proposal

"I am proud to say that this bill is a product of a thoughtful, deliberative process that takes into account the lessons learned in other states who rushed into legalization,” said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues on Thursday, according to State House News Service. “Some may wish we had acted sooner, but I am convinced that the time we took resulted in a final product that will be a national model for responsible sports wagering." 

A six-person conference committee made up of members of both the House and Senate must now work together to draft a version of the legislation, which then would go to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, reports WCVB5. Differences would have to be ironed out before July 31, when formal lawmaking ends for the year.

Mass. Senator Paul Feeney on Thursday.

Among key differences between both proposals is a provision on the House bill that allows for gambling on college sports, which is not present in the Senate version. Additionally, the Senate’s plan doesn’t permit bettors to use credit cards to wager, while the House legislation does. The Senate plan also features a significantly higher tax rate: 20% for retail and 35% for mobile; versus 12.5% and 15% respectively on the House bill.

Gov. Baker had previously stated he would sign a bill

Gov. Baker, a long-time supporter of sports betting, had previously expressed interest in signing sports betting legislation into law, stating it would open a burgeoning market for Massachusetts. On Wednesday, he gave tentative support to the college sports betting provision should it stand, saying he would greenlight it under the appropriate circumstances.

"We filed a bill without college sports in there. The House did it with college sports. It would depend to some extent on the language, but I've said earlier that we would support that," Gov. Baker said, according to the cited source.

Additionally, the Gov. said that legalizing sports betting would help the Bay State keep gambling dollars currently going to other states. Four neighboring states -Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island- have all legalized sports gaming in some form, and Baker believes there is sufficient evidence that Massachusetts residents drive across the border to gamble.

According to estimates, a legal market could imply an additional $35 million in revenue to the state. The Senate bill would allow people 21 or older to bet on sports at the state’s casinos, slot parlors and up to six other brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, and through online platforms. Licenses would be for five years and carry a $5 million fee, to also be paid in case of renewal.

The Senate bill requires numerous consumer safeguards to protect against problem gambling, and calls for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to regulate sports betting and license the operators. The Senate bill would also ban sports betting ads immediately before, during and immediately after live broadcasts of sporting events -similar to a ban in place in the UK- while the House version doesn’t.

"There are always differences on complicated pieces of legislation between the House and the Senate. My hope would be that they would both work to get something to our desk that we can sign by the end of the session," Gov. Charlie Baker, who first filed his own sports betting bill in January 2019, said on Thursday, according to SHNS.

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