Massachusetts Sports Betting Odds Remain Long, as Legislature Remains ‘Far Apart’

The odds of Massachusetts sports betting becoming legal continue to lengthen, as state lawmakers say substantial differences of opinion remain in how the commonwealth should go about authorizing the expanded gambling.

Fenway Park, the storied home of the Boston Red Sox. Massachusetts sports betting continues to be debated in the capital, but the odds of the gambling expansion measure passing appear long in 2022. (Image: Boston Business Journal)

Four Massachusetts border states — New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire — have legal sports betting. Massachusetts lawmakers say their constituents shouldn’t be forced to travel across state borders in order to place a lawful sports bet.

But the regulatory conditions that would govern sports gambling in Massachusetts have resulted in a stalemate. A joint conference committee consisting of state senators and House representatives began their discussions early last month with the hopes of settling the chambers’ sports betting differences. But Democratic House Speaker Ron Mariano told the State House News Service this week that there’s been little progress.

Realistically, I don’t know. We’re far apart,” Mariano said of the sports betting outcome.

The sports betting joint committee includes House Reps. Jerald Parisella (D-Essex), Aaron Michlewitz (D-Suffolk), and David Muradian (R-Worcester). The Senate is represented by Sens. Eric Lesser (D-Hampden), Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth), and Michael Rodrigues (D-Bristol).

Legislative Differences

Lawmakers in both the Massachusetts Senate and House want to legalize sports betting. But they have drastically different opinions on how to best go about reaping the most tax revenue, while simultaneously limiting societal harms more gambling might levy on the public.

The sports betting bill the House passed seeks to impose a 12.5% tax on gross sportsbook revenue generated in-person, and 15% from mobile operations. The Senate measure wants a bigger cut — 20% on retail and 35% online.

The Senate also seeks to restrict betting on college sports, and prevent sportsbooks from advertising on television during professional sports coverage.

House lawmakers say the higher tax would hurt legal sportsbooks from competing with unregulated and untaxed offshore operators. And that could allow the illegal websites to thrive, as they would theoretically be able to offer more competitive odds since they have no tax burden. The House also says allowing college sports on the oddsmakers’ boards is critical to a successful, robust sports betting market.

I’m reluctant to turn over college sports to the black market,” Mariano explained. “I’ve had that position since the beginning.

“I don’t understand if you’re going to do sports betting why you’re going to leave out the Final Four, the [college football] bowl games, and the whole college football season. It just doesn’t seem to me to be worth doing if you’re going to leave those out,” Mariano stated.

Session Countdown

The Massachusetts legislature — known as the General Court — is set to adjourn for 2022 at the end of business on Sunday, July 31. If sports betting is to become legal this year in Massachusetts, much work in the Beacon Hill State House needs to be done, and quickly.

The joint conference committee must first come to terms on how to best authorize gambling on sports. If the six-member group finds common ground, the committee would send a conference report to the Senate and House floors.

The conference report is not amendable but is only voted on in each chamber. If majority support is realized in each chamber, the measure is sent to the governor for final approval.

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