MA Sports Betting Bill Was Held Up By In-State College Ban Debate

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MA sports betting

Rep. David Muradian said that one of the sticking points in the compromise sports betting bill was the provision to allow MA bettors to wager on in-stage college teams during March Madness. 

Legislators struck a deal on Massachusetts sports betting at 5 a.m. Monday, hours after the scheduled end of the 2022 session.

Under the deal, residents of the commonwealth can only bet on out-of-state college teams, with the exception of during tournaments. 

Prior to going into conference committee, the Senate bill sought to ban all betting on college sports, while the House bill aimed to legalize it in its entirety. 

Colleges key to MA sports betting

Industry perception was that college sports betting could have been make or break for the bill. The House estimated that the state would lose $25 to $35 million annually without college betting.

“That one specific provision was one of the ones since the very beginning I was chatting with my conferees about,” Muradian, a member of the six-member committee, told LSR Monday. “I felt that was quite important that if we were ever going to get to a point of (legalizing) college betting but not Massachusetts teams.

“Everyone loves a Cinderella story. And if one of our teams makes a run, I want everyone to have the opportunity to support them.” 

Sleepless night leads to ‘strong bill’

Muradian had not slept since 9 a.m. Sunday as he pulled into his driveway around noon Monday. 

The regular session was supposed to end at midnight, but a logjam of bills caused the MA legislature to suspend official time. Negotiations on the sports betting bill wrapped up just before 5 a.m. 

Other keys to the bill include a 20% tax rate on online sports betting and a 15% tax rate on retail. There is also the opportunity for up to 15 online sports betting licenses. 

“We have what I think is probably what many people in the industry will look at as an unbelievably strong bill,” Muradian said. “And for all the other states that haven’t yet crossed the finish line, in doing this legislation, I think this is something that everyone can look at and try to emulate.” 

No start date yet …

Legal sports betting in MA could be up and running during football season.

The bill must be signed into law by sports betting advocate Gov. Charlie Baker, and is already being reviewed by the legal team with the state’s gaming commission. 

“I wish I could pinpoint when we’re going to have that first wager, but I can tell you that I’m going to be putting money on my Patriots,” Muradian said.

… but no failure either

Muradian told LSR Thursday that it would have been a failure for the commonwealth if policymakers could not find common ground. 

“It totally would’ve been a failure. I totally believe that, and I would’ve never come off that because I thought that we would’ve been failing the citizens of the commonwealth,” Muradian said. “But I’m an optimist and I always had faith. 

“I knew that we put forth an unbelievably strong bill in the House, and I think that there were many Senate members that saw a lot of value to it. Obviously, if you look at the final outcome, the conferees kind of agreed with us, too. And their input was invaluable and we just put together a really strong piece of legislation.”

With that, Muradian was set to take a short nap before getting back to work on other issues. 

MA casinos excited to offer retail sports betting

Three MA casino executives from Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park sent a letter to policymakers last week urging passage of the stalled sports betting bill. 

Each licensed MA casino gets a retail license and access to two online sports betting skins. Racetracks get retail and one skin, with seven open online licenses.

DraftKings, which is headquartered in Boston, and US market leader FanDuel figure to be among them. Barstool Sportsbook, which was founded in the state, could be another.

“We are thrilled the State Legislature reached an agreement to create a safe, regulated and legalized sports betting environment for Bay State residents and look forward to Governor Baker signing the bill,” MGM Resorts International Northeast president/COO Chris Kelley said in a statement. 

“This new industry will allow Massachusetts to repatriate the revenue and jobs currently being lost to neighboring states and the illegal betting market.”

Industry pleased with bill components

There was plenty of concern about the MA sports betting bill. Many in the industry expressed skepticism about not only whether it would pass but what it would look like if it did. 

The Senate, for example, desired a 35% tax rate on online sports betting that would have ranked behind only New York and Pennsylvania. But that didn’t happen. 

“Today’s agreement is a huge win for Massachusetts consumers and major blow to the illegal bookies who have operated in the shadows for decades. We believed that a compromise was reachable because it has always been in the best interest of the commonwealth regulate sports wagering,” iDEA Growth founder and general counsel Jeff Ifrah said in a statement.