Sports News

Here’s what you need to know about the looming fate of Mass. sports betting legislation

"There are very significant conversations going on between the branches about this."

Mass. sports betting
Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers warms up at Fenway Park in 2021 with gambling website advertisements on the Green Monster in the background. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The fate of legislation that would legalize sports betting in Massachusetts will come down to the final few days of this year’s formal sessions, and whether or not state lawmakers can strike a deal before the July 31 deadline.

Both the House (in July of 2021) and Senate (in April of this year) passed sports betting bills, though the differences between them have proven a difficult hurdle to clear.

Before anything can be sent to Gov. Charlie Baker to be signed into law, a conference committee made up of Reps. Jerald Parisella, Aaron Michlewitz, and David Muradian, and Sens. Michael Rodrigues, Eric Lesser, and Patrick O’Connor must find a way to reconcile the differences in the two bills.


Here’s an overview of the current situation:

What are the short-term (and long-term) stakes?

Legalized sports betting — specifically single-game wagering — has proliferated at the state level since the Supreme Court struck down the federal law in 2018 that had mostly prohibited it. Since that time, it has spread to more than 30 states, including each of Massachusetts’ neighbors (with the exception of Vermont).

Massachusetts, home to a passionate community of sports fans, could create a new industry worth potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in total legalized wagering. Estimates on state tax revenue from sports betting range wildly between $8.6 million and $61.3 million (depending on several variables, especially the tax rate).

Vocal opponents of sports wagering in the state dispute the amount of money that would be brought in by legalization. The non-profit organization “Stop Predatory Gambling” charged that “history has shown repeatedly that this argument is either overstated or wrong” on the subject of tax revenue.

Advocates in Massachusetts include Boston-based DraftKings, an industry leader in both daily fantasy sports as well as sports betting, along with other members of the local gaming industry (and even sports teams, such as the Red Sox).

According to DraftKings — which operates sports betting in New Hampshire as a monopoly — 28 % of bets on both this year’s Super Bowl and college basketball’s “March Madness” were placed by Massachusetts residents.


“All eyes in the sports-betting business are in Massachusetts this week,” Casey Clark, senior vice president at the American Gaming Association, told WGBH reporter Craig LeMoult.

If legislators are unable to work out an agreement before the formal session ends, it would most likely delay the entire process until 2023 at the earliest.

What are the differences between the two bills?

In the House, the sports betting bill passed 156-3, while a voice vote passage in the Senate drew no opposition (a later poll conducted by State House News Service found 60% approval in the Senate on the issue). But despite appearing to be collectively in favor of the concept — and agreeing on a wide range of issues, including allowing for both mobile and in-person sports betting — the two chambers disagree on a few key points.

The main difference between the House and Senate bills is on the subject of college sports.

The House version would allow for betting on college sports, while the Senate bill does not. State Senate President Karen Spilka explained the position during a July 26 interview on WBUR’s “Radio Boston.”

“We have heard from every single college president and all the athletic directors begging us to not include college betting in the bill, that it is not a good thing,” said Spilka. “These presidents and athletic directors know their students, so that’s why in our senate version of the bill, we did not allow college [betting].”


Spilka cited a 2020 letter sent to Massachusetts legislators in which the presidents and athletic directors of eight in-state schools with Division-I sports programs charged that legalizing college sports betting would cause “unnecessary and unacceptable risks to student athletes, their campus peers, and the integrity and culture of colleges and universities in the Commonwealth.”

Other differences in the legislation include:

Tax rates: The Senate bill would impose a 20% tax on operator revenue for in-person betting, and 35% for online betting. The House version would put lower tax rates on the industry, with a 12.5% rate on in-person betting and a 15% tax for online betting.

Credit card use: The House version allows for bets to be placed using credit cards, while the Senate does not. Debit cards are allowed under both versions.

Advertising: The Senate bill also calls for stricter advertising practices around sports betting, including prohibiting any ads from running immediately prior to, during, and immediately following any live sporting event.

Mobile licenses: The Senate version allows for nine mobile sports betting licenses, three of which are to be given to state-licensed casinos. The remainder would be given out through a bidding process. The House bill does not limit the number of mobile licenses.

Is a deal still possible?

Speaking to reporters on July 21, House Speaker Ron Mariano sounded a skeptical note about the possibility of getting something done.

“Realistically, I don’t know,” Mariano said at the Massachusetts State House. “I don’t know. We’re far apart.”

And while Spilka — during her more recent “Radio Boston” interview — pointed out that sports betting is far from the only issue being considered before the session ends, she maintained a measure of optimism about its passage.


“I would like to see sports betting be concluded and passed and on the governor’s desk before the session is over,” she said.

The sticking point remains betting on college sports. Mariano has referenced it as a dealbreaker in the past.

“I find myself having a tough time trying to justify going through all of this to not include probably the main driver of betting in the commonwealth,” he said in April, claiming that a ban on college betting would cut the state’s revenue between $25 and $35 million per year.

Spilka said she’s looking for more room to maneuver from the House in order to potentially compromise and get a deal done.

“I would hope and I would ask that the speaker change that position and not take an all-or-nothing approach,” she explained.

Should the bill actually make its way out of committee and finally land on the governor’s desk, it will likely be met with approval (and an eventual signature).

Gov. Baker said in January that he would be “happy” to sign a sports betting bill into law, and has shown openness to various proposals. His 2019 version of a sports betting bill, as an example, left college sports out.

Several potential paths remain open to local lawmakers. A possible compromise position — as has been adopted by several other states — is to ban betting only on in-state college sports, while allowing it for games involving teams from (and playing) elsewhere.

But as time winds down, politicians are now fighting against the clock to try and reach a consensus.


“There are very significant conversations going on between the branches about this,” Gov. Baker said on Thursday. “So it’s clearly still on people’s radar. It is very much on people’s to-do list.”

Baker will have 10 days to sign if something passes.


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