Two days ahead of the deadline to act on the sports betting bill passed by the General Court, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker late Tuesday afternoon told MassLive that he is still contemplating the compromise legislation sent to him Aug. 1. Baker, who as early as 2019 filed his own sports betting bill, has until Thursday to sign, amend, or veto the bill. No action would result in a “pocket veto.”
The legislature, which has been trying for five sessions to come to an agreement on wagering, finally found middle ground in the wee hours of Aug. 1 after the 2022 session was extended. The bill a conference committee settled on would set the tax rate at 20% for digital wagering and 15% for in-person betting, allow for up to 15 digital mobile platforms, ban most betting on Massachusetts college sports teams and events, and require the use of official league data to settle Tier 2 bets.
Baker’s bills had a lower tax rate and gave more latitude to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission than the current bill does, but it also would have banned wagering on college sports and esports. Similar to the current legislation, Baker’s bills would have allowed for stand-alone digital platforms as well as calling for some to be tethered to existing casinos.
Baker told MassLive he supports the compromise on college wagering — the Senate wanted to ban betting on college sports while the House wanted to allow it — and that, given his track record of pushing the legislature to legalize sports betting, “This is certainly something that we support.”
Timetable to launch still up in the air
Exactly what Baker’s concerns are aren’t clear, but the fact that it appears he will take the entire 10 days allowed to act on the bill only pushes back the timetable for when wagering could go live should he sign. Nearly as soon as the bill was signed last week, politicians began pointing to a launch early in NFL season, but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission quickly quashed that idea in a meeting last week.
The MGC must promulgate rules, design applications, do background checks, approve applications, and attend to myriad other details before launch could happen. Staffers at the agency have already started working on proposed rules and creating a framework for regulation. The MGC said the bill does have “emergency” language in it, which could potentially shorten the timeline for approvals and launch, but the agency was unclear if that language could be applied to wagering.
Massachusetts is almost surrounded by legal betting states (Vermont is the only border state without wagering), and went from being one of the first states post-PASPA to consider the issue to being among the last in its region to act on it.
The MGC will meet Thursday morning for the second time in two weeks with sports betting on the agenda.