Massachusetts Sports Betting Back on Legislative Deck

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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is sponsoring the latest push to bring legalized online sports betting to the Bay State with the Governor’s HD 678 bill allowing for statewide online sports wagering and to hand regulatory power to the state’s gaming commission, which would eventually become the sports betting industry regulator.

The Governor introduced the bill as a lead-in to his annual state budget proposal to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, clearly tying sports betting to budget repair in the wake of the devasting economic impact of the global pandemic.

The ins and outs of HD 678

Massachusetts proposed sports betting law HD 678 will look to permit online platforms and licensed land-based casinos in Massachusetts offering sports betting, however, customers would only be allowed to wager on professional sports. No collegiate, high school athletics or eSports wagers would be permitted under the Governor’s bill.

Other proposed regulations include a call for a 10% tax on bricks-and-mortar wagering revenue and a 12.5% tax on online sports betting.  The bill also includes a $100 000 application fee to become an operator and a minimum $500 000 annual renewal fee, that the State Gaming Commission would have the power to raise, if need be. The bill also allows for online sportsbooks to be tethered to existing casinos, or as stand-alone entities much like now happens in Tennessee and Virginia.

According to Governor Baker, his legislation would generate the estimated $35 million in new revenue in Fiscal Year 2020 he requires for the state’s local aid program. Baker’s persistence may yet pay off, as this the third year on the bounce that Baker has counted on revenue from sports betting in his budget proposal. Naturally, it is now up to the members of both houses to discuss.

Last year, there was little problem in the State House passage of a sports betting legalization bill, however, the bill stumbled at the first hurdle to pass the number of required votes in the state’s Senate. However, that was in early 2020 before the drama of the global pandemic unfolded. Baker is clearly banking on the fact that the situation has changed;

“Expanding Massachusetts’ developing gaming industry to include wagering on professional sports is an opportunity for Massachusetts to invest in local aid while remaining competitive with many other states pursuing similar regulations,” Baker said.

Baker doesn’t mind doffing his lawmaker’s cap to sports wagering industry leader, New Jersey, saying that he ‘modelled his proposal on the laws that currently exist’ in the Garden State.

Other sports betting legislation is still alive in Massachusetts, including the previously voted down SD 177. This bill has been re-filed again this year by Senator Brendan Crighton after he failed to generate the required support to pass the legislation a year ago. Also still in the mix is State Representative Bradford Hill’s HD 118, which would legalize both online casinos and mobile sports betting, and that of  Senator Michael Brady’s bill SD 192, which sets out a plan for yet another proposed version of legal sports betting for Massachusetts.

What is the chance that any of the MA Sports Betting Bills will pass?

Governor Baker’s most current proposal appears to have the best chance of safe passage through both houses. As the Governor’s proposal currently stands, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission would be tasked with determining the 12 key points of what sports betting might look like, including how many online licenses (skins) would be attributed to each land-based location, and the maximum wager sizes operators could offer to their bettors.

This level of oversight is expected to more attractive to Massachusetts lawmakers than any previous versions. We can’t wait to see how it plays out.

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