Analysis: There Are 14 Massachusetts Sports Betting Bills But Which Can Make It?

Posted on February 23, 2021
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Written By on February 23, 2021

Legal sports betting in Massachusetts clearly has support with 14 bills filed this session. Now legislators have to figure out which one is best.

Of those 14 bills, there are a total of 11 different proposals. Two bills already have counterparts in the opposite chambers while another two House proposals are similar other than where tax dollars go.

The push for MA sports betting this year is twofold. Plenty of states are looking for additional sources of revenue to fill budgetary holes caused by the coronavirus pandemic and Massachusetts is no different.

The Bay State could also be completely surrounded by states with legal sports betting by the end of the year. New Hampshire and Rhode Island already offer full mobile sports betting. There are legislative efforts in Connecticut, New York and Vermont for the same.

Which Massachusetts sports betting bills have a chance?

To be clear, none of these bills are entirely bad. But with plenty to choose from, it’ll be much easier for legislators to dismiss a proposal based on one or two unliked components.

Gov. Charlie Baker‘s HD 678 hits tax rates of 10% for retail and 12.5% for online betting, but his complete ban on college sports betting is a potential issue when it comes to limiting tax revenue. A full college betting ban could also sink SD 2259 from Sen. Bruce Tarr.

Sen. Eric Lesser touted his similar ban on college betting in SD 2365 to local media as a positive since it’s similar to Baker’s proposal and falls in line with what the state’s NCAA Division I schools want to see. But Lesser also explained how sports betting needs to be legalized to bring it into the light and away from unregulated operators, which does not  sync with banning all college betting.

The state’s three casinos would get three skins each, and another six mobile-only licenses would be available, along with mobile betting licenses for select racetracks as well. Lesser also focused on application, license and renewal fees in the millions.

Bills that don’t give as much to the state’s casino operators will likely be heavily lobbied against. This includes HD 3875 from Rep. Thomas Walsh, which seems to only give the casinos one sports betting license each but allows up to 10 mobile-only licenses.

Not another hold requirement

Rep. Orlando Ramos and Sen. Adam Gomez filed HD 3606 and SD 2237, respectively, but there’s likely little support from the industry for this proposal.

The proposal borrows from the maligned Tennessee sports betting law. Specifically, Gomez and Ramos want to force sportsbooks to hold 10% annually:

“Gross Gaming Revenue”, is the total of all money paid to a Licensee as Bets minus the total amount paid out to winning Bettors, this shall not exceed 90% over a specified period of time not to exceed one year, which includes the cash equivalent of any merchandise or thing of value awarded as a prize.

Some bills just don’t do enough?

A couple of the bills introduced don’t have glaring issues like the above legislation, but don’t quite do enough to move the needle either.

This includes HD 3786 from Rep. David Biele and SD 192 from Sen. Michael Brady, both of which would lead to fewer than 10 operators in the state paying very little up front. The bills call for just $250,000 for an application fee, which is dwarfed by some of the other proposals. With many legislators looking to get cash into the state quickly, expect the upfront fees to be a sticking point this year.

SD 718 from Sen. Michael Rush appears to open the market a bit more but also swings low on its fees with a $100,000 licensing fee. Rush’s proposal also includes the double whammy of official league data and an integrity fee paid to leagues.

Others take too much time

With Massachusetts looking to bring in cash and stay competitive with border states, there likely isn’t much appetite for a proposal that will slow down the process.

That’s exactly what HD 118 and HD 119 from Rep. Bradford Hill would do. Both bills call for a commission that would study sports betting to be established. The commission would have to meet within 30 days of passage and have recommended legislation ready within 120 days.

Two Massachusetts sports betting proposals with hope?

One is SD 177 from Sen. Brendan Crighton, which has a companion in HD 2079 from Rep. Daniel Cahill. The proposal focuses on getting the state some quick cash with a $10 million license fee, which would be paid by casino operators, racetracks and mobile-only sportsbooks. The bill bans betting on in-state colleges, which might be a needed sweetener to pass legislation.

“We’ve modified our bill over the past few years but we’re pretty confident in the product we have now,” Crighton told LSR earlier this year.

SD 2412 from Sen. Paul Freeney has a lot of similar components to the above proposal, which makes sense considering he’s a co-sponsor on Crighton’s bill. Freeney’s bill doesn’t call for as big of a mobile-only market but also calls for some hefty fees: $5 million application and a $1 million renewal every three years.

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Matthew Waters

Matthew Waters is a reporter covering legal sports betting and the gambling industry. Previous stops include Fantini Research and various freelance jobs covering professional and amateur sports in Delaware and the Philadelphia area.

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