BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP/SHNS)–Thursday night the State Senate has passed a bill, An Act regulating sports wagering, paving the way for sports betting to be available in Massachusetts. The bill, which would allow for in-person and online sports betting, also includes several consumer safeguards and addresses gaming addiction and recovery.
Senators unanimously agreed to let the bill (S 2844) pass on a voice vote, meaning that senators were not called to individually vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
Legalized sports betting is growing in popularity across the country and state senators spent hours debating the issue. Twenty Senators filed 69 amendments to the bill.
Lawmakers will have to reconcile the many differences between the Senate’s bill and the one that passed the House last summer before any bets can be placed. The new law would allow people 21 or older to bet on professional sports at the state’s casinos, slot parlor and up to six other brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, and through online or mobile platforms while physically present in Massachusetts. The Mass. Gaming Commission would regulate sports betting and license the operators in Massachusetts, and the Senate bill would require numerous consumer safeguards to protect against problem gambling similar to those put in place for casinos when Massachusetts expanded gaming in 2011.
More than 30 states including Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York have taken action to allow sports betting.
The senate bill would allow the state’s casinos to take bets physically and through digital platforms like Draft Kings and Fan Duel. The three casinos expressed their concerns about the bill in a letter to the Senate, specifically four areas they would like to see changed: the proposed tax rates, the limit on one sub-license for existing gaming operators, the ban on collegiate sports betting, and the Senate’s marketing prohibitions.
The House already approved its version of the bill last summer by a staggering majority. However, the House version would allow for collegiate betting, and for bets to be paid with a credit card. The Senate version would not allow for either.
The bill the Senate passed differs from the legislation the House approved 156-3 last summer in a handful of significant ways: its prohibition on betting on collegiate sports, its substantially higher tax rates, and its whistle-to-whistle ban on sports betting ads during live sports broadcasts. As soon as next week, the House and Senate could appoint a conference committee to hash out the differences with the goal of having a compromise bill that could be approved before the July 31 end of formal lawmaking for the year.
House Speaker Ron Mariano stated that if collegiate sports was left out of the final bill, it would probably be a deal breaker. Currently, Rhode Island and New Hampshire prohibit bets placed on games played within their states and on games that involve an in-state team. Connecticut has a similar restriction, but allows “futures” bets on in-state teams, so residents can bet on the UConn Huskies to win the NCAA basketball tournament, but cannot bet on individual UConn games.
The Senate is also at odds on how to distribute the estimated $35-million in revenue expected from sports betting.
Governor Charlie Baker has said on many occasions he hopes sports betting makes it to his desk before he leaves office.