With little fanfare late Friday afternoon, the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee agreed to new language for a sports betting bill allowing for statewide mobile wagering.
The bill, S.2844, is now headed to the Senate floor and debate is expected Thursday, according to MassLive. The bill is at odds with a version that was approved by the House last summer.
The bill approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee bans betting on college sports and would not allow consumers to fund sportsbook accounts with credit cards (though debit cards could be used). The House bill allows for both college wagers and use of credit cards, and lawmakers on both sides of the issues appear unwilling to yield, which could set up the need for a conference committee to hammer out details. Massachusetts lawmakers have been debating sports betting — both publicly and behind the scenes — since the Supreme Court made it a states’ rights issue in 2018, but they have never come to consensus.
Even if a conference committee could come to an agreement, sports betting might not go live by the end of this year and possibly not even by the 2023 Super Bowl. The gaming commission has started doing some background work on wagering rules, but the process of developing regulations, approving operators, and launching digital platforms generally takes six months or more. In Ohio, the most recent state to legalize, the process will apparently take about a year.
Some states with mature casino markets have gotten sports betting up and running within as little as four months, but the process in Massachusetts cannot begin until after a bill gets out of the general court and Gov. Charlie Baker signs it. Baker has been a big proponent of wagering and filed his own bill several sessions ago, so it’s likely he’ll sign whatever the legislature agrees to.
Banning bets on colleges an issue
Every possible stakeholder, from professional teams to casinos and even the attorney general and gaming board chief, have weighed in on legalization. While the head of the gaming board was neutral in her comments this month, every other stakeholder has voiced loud support for legalizing and frustration at how long the process has taken in the Bay State, which is now literally surrounded by legal sports betting states, save for Vermont.
Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island all offer statewide mobile betting, and stories of Bay Staters crossing the border to bet on hometown teams abound. In fact, the New Hampshire Lottery and Gov. Chris Sununu have eagerly encouraged their southern neighbors to take advantage.
Should Massachusetts legalize with a ban on betting on college sports, some residents may well continue to cross borders. Operators, consultants, and other stakeholders have also long argued that leaving out one type of betting only encourages bettors to continue participating in the black market. In this case, it may just encourage a drive to the north, but at the heart of the matter would be tax dollars lost for the state.
We REALLY doing this again Massachusetts? #SportsBetting pic.twitter.com/51Z1QWbp2J
— Dan Back (@dan_back) April 25, 2022
The new version of the bill would allow retail and digital gaming at an existing “gaming establishment” or “facility approved by the commission,” which seems to open the door for professional sports teams or even local restaurants and bars to get in the game. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission would be the regulator. It also includes what the industry would consider high tax rates — 20% of adjusted gross gaming revenue earned from in-person wagers and 35% on all digital wagers.
Lifetime limit, fees, and more
Interestingly, the bill says operators “shall require patrons to set self-imposed limitations on sports wagering when the patron joins the mobile application or digital platform.” This includes requiring patrons to set daily, weekly, or monthly limits on the size of their deposits.
The bill also sets a $2,500 lifetime deposit limit. Once that limit is reached, operators would be required to cut a bettor off until they acknowledge they have met the limit, they have been “given the opportunity to established self-imposed limits,” and been made aware of “problem gambling resources from the operator.”
Here’s a look at other key points in the bill:
- One skin, or digital platform, per brick-and-mortar gaming location would be allowed, though it does not appear clear if there is any limit to the number of licenses that could be issued.
- Potential operators for either Category 1 or Category 2 licenses would pay a $5 million licensing fee good for five years. Potential operators would also pay a one-time, non-refundable $200,000 application processing fee.
- Sports governing bodies could request that certain events or wagers be prohibited.
- The purchase or use of an athlete’s biometric data is prohibited.
- The legal wagering age would be 21, and the the bill would ban advertising to minors. In addition the bill provides guardrails around advertising, marketing, and promotions.
- Sportsbook operators would be prohibited from advertising during a live television event.
- State spending on problem gambling treatment would be capped at $5,000 per person. In addition, there are requirements that problem gambling hotline numbers be prominently displayed and that voluntary self-exclusion lists be available.
- An annual “research agenda to understand the social and economic effects” of wagering would be required.
- Massachusetts tribes, once they have re-compacted with the state, would be eligible for Category 1 licenses.
- The bill would direct 2.5% of state revenue to either the Race Horse Development Fund or the Education Fund, depending on if certain race-day thresholds are met.