Massachusetts lawmakers begin work on speedy compromise sports betting bill amid ongoing differences

Massachusetts lawmakers begin work on speedy compromise sports betting bill amid ongoing differences

Massachusetts lawmakers are seeking to send a sports betting bill for Gov. Charlie Baker to sign “as soon as possible.” A conference committee composed of senators and representatives tasked with hammering out a compromise held its first meeting on Thursday, in an effort to reach an agreement before the legislative session expires on July 31.

Mass Live reports that a top-ranking senator has pledged to work swiftly on sending the proposal to the Gov.’s desk. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, the Senate’s lead negotiator, has been described as striking “an urgent tone” during the meeting.

We’ll work very hard to get this for the governor as soon and as quickly as possible, and know that the entirety of my team is here to help you and your team to achieve that goal,” Rodrigues reportedly told Rep. Jerald Parisella, the House’s lead negotiator.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues

The meeting also featured Reps. Aaron Michlewitz and David Muradian; and Sens. Eric Lesser and Patrick O’Connor. The reunion followed the passage of sports betting bills by both branches over the last few months, although under vastly different approaches.

Among the key issues to be resolved by the conference committee is college sports betting. While the House bill allows this form of gaming, the Senate’s proposal does not. Additionally, the Senate bill features tighter restrictions on sports betting advertising, marketing and the use of credit cards for gambling.

In contrast, the House bill does not feature these rigid provisions. It also includes a vastly lower tax rate, both for in-person and online sports wagering. While the House bill taxes betting at physical locations at 12.5% and online at 15%, the Senate proposal subjects in-person gaming at 20% and mobile betting at 35%, an issue that has led to disagreement between both parties.

The committee is now tasked with ironing out these issues, which will likely not be an easy task. House Speaker Ron Mariano has said a proposal not featuring legalized college sports betting would be “a dealbreaker,” a standing also shared by other lawmakers. Mariano argues the state would be forfeiting its ability to regulate the black market and maximize state tax revenue.

House Speaker Ron Mariano

The House’s position might be too rigid for Senate lawmakers. Mariano told the cited source on Wednesday that he doesn’t have “any expectations” for the conference committee’s compromise agreement. “We’re going to wait and see what happens,” he stated.

Still, a compromise could still be reached. Sen. Eric Lesser, the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, told his colleagues on Thursday he was looking forward to a “very productive and effective conference committee.”

Gov. Baker has long supported sports gaming legalization, and has stated it would make him “happy” to sign legislation to that end before he leaves office. Baker renewed his interest in signing last week, following Boston Celtics’ victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday. The Gov. used the team’s win in a speech in favor of legalization, lamenting that sports fans had to cross over state lines to neighboring jurisdictions to place wagers.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker

“There are a lot of people who literally just drive out of Massachusetts so that they can bet on sports, and it’s happening all over the country,” he said. “And without a legal way to do this, it’s a little bit like the marijuana issue. You just leave the black market there, and you don’t sort of bring it out of the shadows and make it part of the regular crime. I think we should do that.”

Last month, the American Gaming Association voiced its position on what should a sports betting legalization be like to the Massachusetts General Court, in a letter that advised against excessive restrictions on sportsbook advertising, adopting an unreasonable tax rate for sportsbook operators, and banning bets on collegiate sporting events. 

This take is in line with the House’s more relaxed bill, which also supports collegiate sports betting. While it is still unsure if college sporting events wagering will stand following negotiations, Gov. Baker said he would support it depending on a proposal’s wording. According to gaming advisory firm Per Eilers and Krejcik LLC, a provision on collegiate teams could lead to as high as a 50% reduction in the state’s overall betting handle.