The Senate is set to debate a bill Thursday to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts, but the bill that emerged Friday afternoon from a Senate committee differs in several ways from the bill. on sports betting which has already been approved by the Chamber.
The long-awaited betting bill was pushed forward favorably by the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Friday afternoon, according to a Senate source. If passed in the Senate next week, lawmakers would have about three months to reconcile their differing approaches and present a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker, who has supported legalizing sports betting for years.
“I am delighted to see that the committee has reached agreement on a solid proposal and I look forward to discussing it with my colleagues next week,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, who resisted for years. months to calls to debate sports betting while citing a desire to solidify consensus among senators first, said Friday.
The House passed a sports betting bill 156-3 last summer and approved the legalization of sports betting as part of an economic development bill the year before, but the Senate stood still. is far less interested in tackling the issue since the US Supreme Court in 2018 gave states the option to legalize sports betting.
More than 30 states – including neighboring Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York – have taken steps to allow betting on sports competitions since May 2018.
There appear to be a number of important differences between the bill that the Senate Ways and Means Committee introduced on Friday and the legislation that easily passed the House in July, including the bill’s ban on Senate to bet on collegiate athletics.
Even before the House voted, House Speaker Ronald Mariano drew a line in the sand on Bloomberg Baystate Business and said leaving collegiate bets on any bill “would probably” be a dealbreaker for him.
“I find it hard to justify all of this for not including probably the main driver of betting in the Commonwealth,” Mariano said last summer.
The Senate’s approach to ban betting on college sports is consistent with a request from the presidents and athletic directors of the eight Massachusetts colleges and universities that have Division I sports programs.
Officials from Boston College, Boston University, Harvard University, Northeastern University, College of the Holy Cross, Merrimack College and the University of Massachusetts (Amherst and Lowell ) in 2020 urged lawmakers to quit college betting on any legalization bill.
Legal betting on college athletics, the presidents and athletic directors said, will cause “unnecessary and unacceptable risks to student-athletes, their peers on campus, and to the integrity and culture of colleges and universities.” of the Commonwealth”.
If the House bill becomes law, House leaders have estimated that it could produce about $60 million in annual revenue for the state. But Mariano said the revenue estimate would fall to between $25 million and $35 million a year without college betting.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee estimated that its version of sports betting legislation would produce $35 million in annual revenue for the state.
The use of credit cards to place bets is another issue that could become a possible sticking point between the House and Senate. Senator Eric Lesser, who as chairman of the Economic Development Committee largely led the Senate’s sports betting efforts, pointed out at a press service forum in October that his own bill on betting – and the version that advanced with a favorable report on Friday – would explicitly prohibit the use of a credit card to make a bet, contrary to the House bill.
“The idea that someone in a bit of an impulsive way could be racking up huge credit card bills from their couch and who might have an addiction problem or a gambling problem – that’s a big concern, and it’s is a big concern for our caucus,” Lesser said.
Like the House sports betting bill, the Senate plan would place sports betting under the jurisdiction of the Mass. Gaming Commission, would require all bettors to be at least 21 years old and physically present in Massachusetts, and would implement numerous safeguards for consumers to protect against problem gambling. similar to those put in place for casinos when Massachusetts expanded gambling in 2011.
The Senate bill would establish a framework with two categories of licenses: one that would allow state gaming licensees – Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor – to take bets at their physical establishments and through one digital or mobile platform, and another that would allow up to six other operators to take bets in person and on mobile.
All licenses would be valid for five years and incur a $5 million fee, plus an additional $5 million for each 5-year renewal.
The Senate is considering taxing operators at a rate of 20% of gross sports betting revenue from bets placed in person and at a rate of 35% of gross sports betting revenue from bets placed through a mobile or digital platform. The House bill calls for sports betting revenue from in-person betting to be taxed at 12.5% and mobile betting revenue to be taxed at 15%.
The tax rates proposed by the Senate would put Massachusetts in the top bracket of tax rates on sports betting income. Connecticut, for example, taxes sports betting revenue at 13.75% for retail bets and 18% for online bets, while Louisiana levies a tax of 10% for in-person bets and 15 % for mobile betting and Arizona taxes income from in-person betting. at 8% and mobile betting revenue at 10%, according to the Tax Foundation.
The Senate bill would also make changes to the Race Horse Development Fund, an account fueled by revenue from casinos and slot games and intended to support every side of the horse racing world: the standardbreds who race at the Plainridge Park Racecourse in Plainville and the Thoroughbreds that used to race at Suffolk Downs.
Beginning in 2025, revenues from MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor that under current law will go to the RHDF would instead go to an education fund unless at least 20 days of live racing take place at the course of the previous calendar year on a Thoroughbred track. The bill would also allow all RHDF money to be used to benefit the standardbred side of the industry, unless at least 20 Thoroughbred races were held in the previous calendar year.