The time has finally come for Massachusetts Senators and Representatives to begin negotiating the terms of legal sports betting. The state's next legislative session is set to start on Thursday, June 2 and last through the month of July, giving all the parties involved around eight weeks to hammer out an agreement that would legalize sports betting in Massachusetts.
Relative to other situations, the hurdles facing the state during these legislative sessions are unique. Senators and representatives aren't debating whether they will legalize sports betting so much as how they will approve it. This lends itself to some hope that there will be a concrete plan to roll out legal online sports betting in Massachusetts by the time talks expire on July 31. At the same time, the initiatives proposed by the gaming conference committee, which was officially formed back in May, and the Senate vary enough that a failure to hash out compromises on multiple fronts could upend the entire process altogether.
So, is Massachusetts on the verge green lighting sports gambling across all mediums, both online and in-person? Will there be limits on how legal sports betting is accessed and licensed? Or is the state due for another setback that craters both sports betting bills, leaving Massachusetts residents to take matters into their own hands, perhaps by scouring our reviews of the top online sportsbooks in search of one that will allow them to register and submit wagers?
Let's find out.
Massachusetts in Search Compromise on Legal Sports Betting
Representatives Jerald Parisella, Aaron Michlewitz and David Muradian are backing a sports betting bill that has roughly zero limitations. Theirs would allow betting on college sports and open up plenty of room for sports betting licenses. This is generally the model other places in the USA with legal sports betting have followed. The tax rates and number of licenses given to sportsbook operators vary depending on the situation, but when states cannonball into legal gambling, they tend to avoid half-measures and stipulations.
The Massachusetts Senators, however, have different ideas in mind. Senators Michael Rodrigues, Eric Lesser and Patrick O’Connor are in favor of okaying sports betting, but they're backing an initiative that would include significant limitations, such as the inability to invest in betting odds on college sports. Here are the full details on their proposal, according to the State House News Service in Massachusetts:
"The Senate bill has rigid restrictions on sports betting advertising, marketing and the use of credit cards that the House bill did not include. And the branches opted for vastly different tax rates—revenue from in-person bets would be subject to a tax of 20 percent in the Senate bill and 12.5 percent in the House bill, while money brought in from online or mobile bets would be taxed at 35 percent under the Senate framework and 15 percent under the House plan."
Many believe that the Senate and Representative Committee will be able to find common ground on tax rates. Higher fees can be prohibitive for tribal casinos and corporate sportsbook operators like FanDuel, DratKings and BetMGM, among others, but Massachusetts is less likely to experience pushback than other states. Their sports betting market figures to be one of the larger in the United States, with flagship franchises such as the New England Patriots (NFL), Boston Celtics (NBA), Boston Bruins (NHL) and Boston Red Sox (MLB) t0 anchor interest from gambling enthusiasts. This makes it easier to charge higher tax rates in general.
Massachusetts also wouldn't be alone in assessing higher fees to online bets specifically. A handful of other states have done this or are considering it, because the majority of these transactions will take place at the larger corporate sportsbooks, who can afford to bankroll bigger bills. The end result here feels like a compromise in which a 15 percent tax rate is assessed to online bets placed at tribal casino sites while a 30 to 35 percent tax rate is charged to places such as FanDuel and DraftKings that don't operate within state lines.
College Sports Betting will be Sticking Point for Massachusetts Senators
The sticking point among Massachusetts Senators and the Representative Committee seems like it will invariably come down to legal betting on college sports. The Senate has so far maintained a firm stance against amending their proposal to allow residents to play around with odds on NCAA basketball and odds on college football.
Not surprisingly, this has proven to be an unpopular sentiment among the Representative Committee. While the Senate argues that this stipulation qualifies as an anti-gaming measure, ensuring that sportsbook operators won't funnel tons of advertising resources to college campuses and younger clientele, the Representative committee insists this is a hollow gesture.
After all, just because Massachusetts residents can't legally bet on college sports doesn't mean they won't. As it stands, the state is already losing tons of potential revenue to black market and offshore sportsbooks, as is the case with every other place in the U.S. that has yet to legalize sports gambling.
It isn't yet clear whether this logic will be enough to overturn the Senate's opinion. Only time will tell on that front. For now, it's fair to be reasonably optimistic the Senate and Representative Committee will find a happy medium that allows legal sports betting in Massachusetts by the 2022 NFL season. But if they can't figure out a compromise when it comes to betting on college sports, there's a chance this rosy outlook quickly devolves into a more pessimistic one.
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