As Massachusetts Legislature nears the July 31 end of formal sessions, leaders claim there is still "a long way to go" in the negotiations to bridge differences between Senate and House bills, and the alternative to break for election season without a deal comes up, even though both chambers are on record in favor of legalization.
House Speaker Ronald Mariano told reporters that negotiations have just begun, according to Mass Live. “We’ll see how it plays out," he said. "We have a long way to go. I’m not going to prejudge a negotiation.”
Senate President Karen Spilka said Monday that House-Senate negotiators last week struck an agreement on early and mail-in voting reforms in part because the approach of election season forced compromise. “We were disappointed that it did not contain same-day registration or movement towards that goal, but we resolved it because we knew we needed to get it done because voting is so important,” she said. “It’s the foundation of our democracy so we know we needed to resolve it.”
Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano
A conference committee composed of senators and representatives tasked with hammering out a compromise held its first meeting on Thursday last week. A top-ranking senator has reportedly pledged to work swiftly on sending the proposal to Gov. Charlie Baker. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, the Senate’s lead negotiator, has been described as striking “an urgent tone” during the meeting.
“We’ll work very hard to get this for the governor as soon and as quickly as possible, and know that the entirety of my team is here to help you and your team to achieve that goal,” Rodrigues reportedly told Rep. Jerald Parisella, the House’s lead negotiator.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues
Among the key issues to be resolved by the conference committee is college sports betting. While the House bill allows this form of gaming, the Senate’s proposal does not. Additionally, the Senate bill features tighter restrictions on sports betting advertising, marketing and the use of credit cards for gambling.
In contrast, the House bill does not feature these rigid provisions. It also includes a vastly lower tax rate, both for in-person and online sports wagering. While the House bill taxes betting at physical locations at 12.5% and online at 15%, the Senate proposal subjects in-person gaming at 20% and mobile betting at 35%, an issue that has led to disagreement between both parties.
Gov. Baker has long supported sports gaming legalization, and has stated it would make him “happy” to sign legislation to that end before he leaves office. Baker renewed his interest in signing last week, following Boston Celtics’ victory over the Golden State Warriors during the ongoing NBA Finals. The Gov. used the team’s win in a speech in favor of legalization, lamenting that sports fans had to cross over state lines to neighboring jurisdictions to place wagers.
Last month, the American Gaming Association voiced its position on what should a sports betting legalization be like to the Massachusetts General Court, in a letter that advised against excessive restrictions on sportsbook advertising, adopting an unreasonable tax rate for sportsbook operators, and banning bets on collegiate sporting events.