As Massachusetts stares down a deadline to get a legal sports betting bill to the governor’s desk by the end of the current legislative session, divisions remain evident among legislators over the idea of wagering on college sports.
The deadline of Sunday, July 31 is fast approaching for the Massachusetts sports betting bill
Currently uncertain whether the House-Senate committee will reconcile differences in competing bills
If it fails to pass, the next opportunity will not be until Jan. 3, 2023
It’s been over a year since the Massachusetts House passed a MA sports betting bill in the summer of 2021, yet divisions in the Senate over college sports betting threaten to put legal sports wagering in the commonwealth on hold for another year. The current session of the Massachusetts General Court ends on July 31, and lawmakers do not reconvene until Jan. 3, 2023.
Massachusetts is surrounded by four states—New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire—that allow legal sports betting, with the Empire State having emerged as the nation’s top market for betting apps. But the impasse over college sports betting has left even Gov. Charlie Baker, a proponent of legal sports betting, unsure over what comes next.
“It’s hard to tell at the end of session sort of what is or what isn’t going to get through the gate at the end,” he told Boston Public Radio last week. “It’s very hard for me to draw a conclusion.”
Sides ‘far apart’ on Massachusetts sports betting
The state Senate passed its own Massachusetts sports betting bill in April, but that legislation included a ban on college sports wagering that’s become a road block to the bill going any further. The sports betting measure is also in a crowded field of 10 bills that Massachusetts legislators are attempting to settle before the current session expires.
As of Monday, the legal sports betting measure was in a conference committee in which House and Senate members attempt to resolve differences between the two versions. House Speaker Ron Mariano told the Boston Herald that the two sides remain “far apart” on college sports betting, which is allowed in the majority of the states that have legalized sports wagering.
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is among the most bet-on sports events every year in the United States. The most recent tournament in 2022 was expected to draw $3.1 billion in handle from 45 million bettors, according to the American Gaming Association. But under the Senate bill, March Madness would be off the board in Massachusetts.
“I’m reluctant to turn over college sports to the black market,” Mariano told the Herald last week. “I’ve had that position since the beginning. If we’re going to do this, I think there’s an opportunity to include college sports rather than let it only be handled by (illegal) bookies.”
Tax rate issue also remains unresolved
Further complicating the situation: The sports betting bill does not appear to be an end-of-session priority to leadership in the Massachusetts Senate, given that measures involving taxes, mental health care, abortion and reproductive rights still remain unresolved.
And the House and Senate sports betting bills also have unresolved differences concerning tax rates, with the House wanting rates of 15% on mobile wagers and 12.5% on retail bets, and the Senate wanting 35% and 20%, respectively. A late-session attempt to align both bills with the House tax rates was overwhelmingly shot down, according to WBUR-FM.
The Senate version of the legal sports betting bill would generate an estimated $35 million in annual tax revenue. But barring a final-week compromise, Massachusetts seems set to remain one of only two states in the Northeast (along with Vermont) where sports betting remains illegal—leading sports bettors to spend their bankrolls, and generate tax dollars, elsewhere.
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