Sports News

Mass. House scheduled to debate sports betting bill on Thursday

The bill would include both in-person and mobile betting options.

Encore Boston
A 2020 photo of the $2.6 billion Encore Boston Harbor resort casino in Everett with Boston in the background. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts House is scheduled to debate a revised version of Rep. Dan Cahill’s bill to legalize sports betting in the state during a formal session on Thursday.

Announced on Monday following the release of an updated schedule from Speaker Ronald Mariano’s office, the House will consider the latest version of a sports betting bill (H. 3977), which was advanced by the Ways and Means Committee after a 28-0 vote on Wednesday.

The bill would allow for sports betting licensees to be available for casinos, slot parlors and simulcasting facilities, race tracks, and mobile operators. Specifically, the bill allows for up to three mobile operators to apply for a “Category 1 License.”

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Betting would be allowed for anyone who is at least 21 years old and is physically present in the state. Bettors can place wagers on professional sports, esports, video games, and car racing. College sports are also included, but not on the performance of individual college athletes.

In-person betting would be taxed at 12.5 percent, while mobile bets would see a 15 percent tax.

Having considered several other possible sports betting bills earlier in the current session, the House has narrowed it down to the current version, derived from Cahill’s original legislation (H. 506).

One aspect that was discussed in a June hearing that’s missing from the current bill is the inclusion of in-person betting kiosks for small businesses like bars and restaurants. This provision was seen as an effort to break up a potential “monopoly” by casinos, and help to address concerns of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The only reference to the kiosks in the current bill is a note calling for a feasibility study to be made on the issue, which would be completed no later than the end of 2022.

“The commission shall conduct a study into the feasibility of allowing retail locations in the commonwealth to operate sports wagering kiosks,” reads the text of the bill on page 38 in Section 20.

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Should the bill pass the House, it would head to the Massachusetts Senate which might be more receptive to its consideration than in the previous session. After the House passed an economic development bill in July 2020 (which included the legalization of sports betting), the Senate passed the bill, only without the sports betting package.

A year later, the Senate — with a bill from Sen. Eric Lesser reportedly leading the way — could take up consideration of the issue. One notable difference is that Lesser’s bill does not allow for betting on college sports.

Part of the increased legislative momentum for Massachusetts sports betting is the reality that each of the state’s neighbors (with the exception of Vermont) has already legalized it. In all, more than 30 states have now legalized some version of betting on sporting events following the Supreme Court’s landmark 2018 decision to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which effectively banned sports betting with only a few specific exceptions.

Another political motivation is the apparent popularity of sports betting. In a recent poll conducted by David A. Paleologos Associates (commissioned by Encore Boston Harbor and the Plainridge Park Casino Commission), 61 percent of Massachusetts voters would support the legalization of sports betting in the state.

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Should any version of a sports betting bill eventually reach the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker, it’s expected to meet with favor. Gov. Baker has indicated that he’s in favor of legalization, having filed his own bill in previous sessions.

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