Session's end on July 31

Massachusetts Senate President hopeful compromise sports betting bill may be reached ahead of session end

Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka.
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Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka said she is hopeful a sports betting bill will come out as time runs out for legislators to hammer out a compromise proposal. If negotiators strike an agreement, Spilka has vowed her chamber would take a roll call vote on the bill, aligning Massachusetts with neighboring gaming states, including Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Her remarks echo that of state Rep. Jerry Parisella, who last week said he was hopeful legislators would bridge differences between the Senate and House sports betting bills ahead of the session's end, which occurs on July 31. Should a compromise bill be reached, it would be sent to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk for him to sign, who has long supported legalization.

Spilka’s new remarks could remedy the opacity of a voice vote the Senate took on the sports betting bill -now stuck in conference committee- in April, which shielded elected leaders from disclosing their own preference of legalizing some, but not all, types of wagering in the commonwealth, says MassLive

While Spilka later revealed she would have voted in favor of the bill, her colleagues might not endure the same scrutiny should differences run too deep to reconcile with mere days remaining in the legislative session.

“I know the conference committee is working on that, too,” Spilka said in regards to the possibility of an agreement on sports betting occurring this week. “We have, what, six or eight conference committees going on? It would be wonderful to resolve all of them. I’m hopeful.

No update emerged from the negotiators as of last Friday, but a compromise could still be reached in the final days. However, a set of key issues must be resolved by the conference committee for this to happen, among them 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, and includes a vastly lower tax rate, both for in-person and online wagering. While the House bill taxes betting at physical locations at 12.5% and online at 15%, the Senate proposal taxes at 20% and 35% respectively.

Gov. Charlie Baker has long supported legalization

In addition to counting on the support from many legislators in both the House and Senate, potential legalization has also been welcomed by business organizations, including the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, which have written letters backing this move.

However, should the Bay State approve sports gaming, residents may still find themselves crossing state lines or relying on the black market to bet until at least next year as regulations are drafted and implemented, lawmakers and experts told MassLive.

Moreover, specialists have also warned the rigid measures on marketing featured in the Senate proposal could have a counterproductive effect by restricting people’s awareness of the legal market, thus taking money away from the state. Additionally, the ban on collegiate sports betting featured in that proposal could hinder the Legislature’s opportunity to regulate gambling and clamp down on black market activity for that segment.

In line with this argument, House Speaker Mariano said in late May that a proposal not featuring legalized college sports betting would be “a dealbreaker.” “It’s hard for me to figure out what the purpose of the Senate bill is,” Mariano said at the time, arguing the state would also be forfeiting its ability to maximize tax revenue.

State Rep. Jerry Parisella

While it is yet unclear which provisions would survive a potential compromise, what both chambers agree on is that Massachusetts is missing out by keeping its market illegal. “Every year that legal betting is not available, Massachusetts is losing valuable tax revenue to our neighbors,” state Rep. Jerry Parisella said last week.

The Representative cited at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS)' summer meeting statistic from sports betting operator DraftKings that show 30% of all Super Bowl 2022 bets made in New Hampshire came from Massachusetts residents who drove over the state line. Lawmakers project sports wagering could generate around $35 million in annual tax revenues for the state.

Gov. Baker has long been an outspoken proponent of sports betting legalization and has said he would even support a collegiate sports betting provision, depending on the bill’s language. Massachusetts could ultimately find a middle ground on this issue by banning betting only on their own state college or university athletic programs, as other states grappling with this challenge did.