MA Sports Betting Passes House But Will Senate Stall Again?

Posted on July 22, 2021
MA sports betting
Posted By on July 22, 2021

The MA sports betting story took a familiar step Thursday, gaining House approval and putting the onus on the Senate.

The House voted 156-3 to send an amended H 3977 over to the Senate. Many in the House urged quick action, but it might not be as easy as pushing the House’s proposition through. The Senate has a plan of its own for MA sportsbooks, much of which does not mesh with the House’s proposal.

Both sides will likely come together in a conference committee if both chambers pass their respective bills as written. How soon a compromise is found will dictate whether a launch during NFL betting season is possible.

What could come next?

Through H 3977, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission could set emergency rules and issue temporary licenses, which would speed up the launch process.

The Senate’s vehicle, S 269 from Sen. Eric Lesser, has not seen action since it was voted out of a joint committee earlier this week. The House, meanwhile, introduced a new proposal, then passed it out of the House committee and through the full chamber in four days.

Waiting on the Senate is nothing new for House when it comes to sports betting legislation. The House included sports betting in its version of an economic development bill last year that also passed 156-3.

Standalone MA sports betting apps allowed

H 3977 was a bit ambiguous with whether there would be standalone mobile (category three) licenses or not. That changed through Rep. Dan Hunt‘s successful amendment:

“Nothing in this chapter shall require a category 3 licensee to partner with or have any commercial relationship with a category 1 or 2 licensee.”

How many standalone mobile sportsbooks there was not defined through the amendment. The bill does define how many apps can launch through partnerships with casinos and tracks: three for each casino and one for each track. That’s good for 11 online sportsbooks as the market stands now.

What’ll it cost?

Those sportsbook licenses will come at $5 million each. If all those licenses are utilized the state would get $80 million upfront before a bet is accepted. Each casino, track and online operator must pay the fee.

Rep. Jerald Parisella, the House chair on the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies that heard sports betting testimony last month, said $60 million is a conservative estimate for annual tax revenue from betting. Those numbers should rise as the market matures, he added.

The bill taxes sports betting revenue at 12.5% for retail and 15% for online.

Professional teams, leagues miss direct access

Reps. Jay Livingstone and Bradford Hill both filed amendments for professional sports teams and leagues to get betting licenses. That didn’t happen, though.

Hill withdrew his amendment while Livingstone’s was changed to let the gaming commission study the potential for giving those teams licenses.

The original amendment would have allowed teams to take bets at or near their facilities, as well as to partner with an online sportsbook.

Other amendments seeking license changes failed

There were 28 amendments offered by representatives for H 3977, some of which tried to expand or limit licenses. Here are some other notable ones that failed:

  • Rep. Edward Coppinger wanted to give preference for mobile licenses to daily fantasy sports operators. To be eligible, the DFS company had to offer the contests in Massachusetts for a year and be authorized for sports betting in at least two states. This is not surprising as there are usually lawmakers pushing for a carve-out for Boston-based DraftKings. The amendment was withdrawn.
  • Rep. Michael Day wanted category three mobile licenses capped at 10 with no more than six issued in the first 12 months. The amendment was withdrawn.

Reps urge Senate action on MA sports betting

There was a whole lot of back-slapping during introductory comments from six representatives for getting H 3977 done. There was also plenty of pressure put on the Senate to get to work on legalizing MA sports betting.

“It is time for us to send a message to our friends in the Senate that today we vote unanimously, as a House,” said Rep. Michael Soter. “And I’m asking you, as a colleague on the border of the state of Rhode Island, that we unanimously send a message to our colleagues in the Senate saying that the people, the people we work for, want this legislation.

“Turn on the radio, turn on the news. Everybody wants this legislation. We don’t have to go to a ballot or find out where people in the commonwealth are, we know where they are. Listen to them, you represent them.”

“I look forward to working with the Senate ­– because football season’s coming – look forward to working with folks in the other chamber and the governor’s office to get this done forthwith,” said Rep. Dan Cahill.

“I hope that House 3977 is passed and I hope that the Senate takes it up in an early fashion so that we can finally start placing bets on sports here in the Commonwealth and that we don’t miss another football season, another college basketball season, World Series, Super Bowls – which we have now missed at least three of those opportunities. We need to get this done.”

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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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