MA Sports Betting Bill Clears Senate But Major Challenges Ahead

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MA sports betting

After a long delay, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill to legalize MA sports betting. Now, the real work can start.

The Senate passed a heavily amended version of H 3993 in S 2844, which was stripped and replaced with different language, Thursday afternoon.

While Senate movement on sports betting in Massachusetts is positive, the bill has some gigantic differences from the H 3993 passed last July by the House.

Big hurdles remain for MA sports betting

There were 69 amendments turned in by Tuesday’s 5 pm deadline, only 18 of which passed. None of those approved addressed any of the major sticking points between the House and the Senate though.

The Senate killed amendments to set tax rates at 10% for retail and 12.5% for online. That keeps the Senate tax rates at 20% for retail and 35% online compared to 12.5% and 15%, respectively, in the House bill.

There were also attempts to add or change the number of licenses, but those failed as well. That leaves the Senate bill with a minimum of nine online licenses compared to at least 11 in the House.

O’Connor stressed college sports betting

There was also no discussion on including college betting in the Senate bill. Sen. Patrick O’Connor introduced three amendments that offered some form of college betting but later withdrew them without discussion.

O’Connor suggested allowing all college betting and sanctioned amateur competitions like the Olympics. Another included just college betting, while a third carved out a ban for in-state colleges.

“College sports represents an enormous sector of the sports entertainment industry. If we want to carve out Massachusetts college sports events I think that’s totally reasonable,” O’Connor said. “… Again, three options before us. But for us as a body to not include the college sports industry completely missed the point of what we’re doing today and almost misses half of the revenue as well.”

Next steps for MA sports betting

The two sides likely will be negotiating the sports betting bills for a while as the House is not expected to accept the Senate changes. Last year, House Speaker Ron Mariano said excluding college betting probably would be a dealbreaker for him.

The good news is the legislative session runs through Jan. 2, 2023 after the formal session ends July 31. The bad news, of course, is that the Senate already had nine months to put forward a bill that matched the House and went in a completely different direction.

In other words, Massachusetts might still be sending bettors to Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island for the next year or beyond even with bills passed by both chambers.