Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Three State Legislators File Dueling Sports Betting Bills

Posted on: January 17, 2019, 05:55h. 

Last updated on: January 17, 2019, 05:57h.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Thursday that his administration would be filing a bill to legalize sports betting by a Friday deadline for the upcoming legislative session.

Massachusetts sports betting bill
Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker has proposed a bill that would legalize sports betting in the state, but only on professional events. (Image: AP)

The bill is just one of four to be filed this week on the subject of sports betting, as several lawmakers in the state have made various proposals for regulating wagering.

Baker: A ‘Commonsense’ Approach

Baker’s bill would allow sportsbooks to open at the three licensed casinos in the state – only one of which is currently open – as well as at the Plainridge Park slots parlor.

The Republican governor’s proposal would also allow for online sports betting within the state. Brick-and-mortar sportsbooks would be taxed at 10 percent of gross revenues, while online sports betting sites would face a 12.5 percent tax rate. Baker’s office anticipates that the legislation would earn $35 million in revenue for the state in the 2020 fiscal year.

“Our legislation puts forth a series of commonsense proposals to ensure potential licensees are thoroughly vetted and safeguards are in place to protect against problem gambling and illegal activity,” Baker said in a statement.

No Amateur Sports Betting

In some ways, Baker’s proposal is rather restrictive. While all US states that offer sports betting prohibit wagering on high school events, the Baker bill doesn’t allow bets to be taken on college sports, amateur sports, or esports either.

On the bright side for potential operators, the legislation doesn’t include any integrity fee or other form of royalties that would need to be paid to professional sports leagues. Each licensee would be required to pay $1 million to help fund programs to combat problem gambling.

Overall, it seemed that at least some potential operators were happy with the bill. In a statement, DraftKings director of global public affairs James Chisholm said that the plan was “thoughtful,” and that legal sports betting could “fuel the growth of Massachusetts’ sports-tech sector.”

“We’re hopeful Massachusetts will seize the opportunity to establish a new national model of directly licensing mobile operators this year,” Chisholm said in the statement.

Even if the state legislature takes up sports betting this year, however, they may not end up going with Baker’s vision for the industry. Three Massachusetts state senators have introduced their own bills this week, each of which differs in scope.

Brendan Crichton (D-Essex) has proposed a tax rate of 12.5 percent on all sports betting, while James Welch (D-Hampden) submitted a bill that would tax operators at just 6.75 percent. Meanwhile, Bruce Tarr (R-Essex and Middlesex) has proposed the creation of a “Special Commission on Sports Gaming,” which would be tasked with releasing a report on the subject within 180 days.

Northeastern Gambling Wars Continue

Massachusetts is just one of several northeastern states considering the regulation of sports betting, which is quickly becoming the latest battleground in the regional gambling arms race.

Rhode Island has already begun taking bets at the Twin River Casino, and is currently considering legislation that would allow online wagering as well. Upstate New York casinos could begin taking bets this year if a regulatory framework is put into place, something supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Meanwhile, Connecticut legislators are again taking up a variety of gaming issues in 2019, including a proposal to allow sports betting at the state’s tribal casinos.