Massachusetts Sports Betting Bill Passes Senate, But Much Work Remains

Posted on: April 29, 2022, 07:27h. 

Last updated on: April 29, 2022, 11:57h.

The Massachusetts sports betting bill passed last July by the House of Representatives has finally gained approval in the upper assembly chamber.

Massachusetts sports betting New England Patriots
A New England Patriots fan cheers on his team in Foxboro, Ma., in 2021. Massachusetts sports betting could arrive in the commonwealth in time for the 2022-23 NFL season. (Image: Getty)

Yesterday, the State Senate approved Senate Bill 2844 (House Bill 3933) by a voice vote. The approval is expected to send the sports betting statute to a special committee to settle the differences between the chambers’ endorsed versions of the sports betting law.

The differences are not trivial. Unlike HB 3933, Senate 2844 prohibits betting on all college sports, imposes substantially higher tax rates, and prohibits sports betting advertisements on television whistle to whistle during live games.

“There are always differences on complicated pieces of legislation between the House and the Senate. My hope would be that they would both work to get something to our desk that we can sign by the end of the session,” said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R). For more than three years, he has advocated for the state to authorize gambling on sports.

With the differences considerable, the Massachusetts General Assembly is expected to appoint a conference committee to settle the disparities, with the goal of finalizing a mutually agreeable sports betting law before the legislature is scheduled to adjourn for 2022 on July 31.

Lawmaker Celebrates Progress

Since the US Supreme Court struck down the federal sports betting ban in May 2018, 32 states have passed laws legalizing such gambling. Though Massachusetts’ proposed law comes nearly four years after the landmark SCOTUS decision, at least one state lawmaker believes they’ve established what will become the gold standard in regulating sports wagering.

I am proud to say that this bill is a product of a thoughtful, deliberative process that takes into account the lessons learned in other states that rushed into legalization. Some may wish we had acted sooner, but I am convinced that the time we took resulted in a final product that will be a national model for responsible sports wagering,” said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport).

For seemingly dragging his feet regarding the House sports betting bill, Rodrigues faced criticism from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle. It first arrived in the Senate in his Ways and Means Committee. Rodrigues justified that the committee is there to maximize the benefits for the commonwealth while minimalizing harm to consumers and the general public, which can only be accomplished through careful deliberations.

Bill Differences

Not everyone, however, thinks the state got it right with sports betting. Specifically, the complete ban on college sports wagering is being lambasted.

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth) said banning college sports will only continue to force Massachusetts residents to wager through illegal, offshore, and/or underground bookies. Only Oregon fully prohibits collegiate betting of the 32 states that have passed sports wagering laws. Others, including in neighboring Connecticut and New Hampshire, prevent college sports betting on games involving state-based schools.

Tax rates will also need to be ironed out. The House bill suggests a 12.5% tax on in-person bets and 15% online. The Senate version suggests 20% on retail and 35% on mobile.

The bills are in harmony in allowing the state’s three casinos to incorporate sportsbooks into their facilities, and additionally, operate one online book each.