Latest Massachusetts Sports Betting Bill Renews Legalization Hopes
Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images. Pictured: The steps of the Massachusetts State House.
The bill would allow the state’s casinos, horse tracks and simulcast facilities to offer online and retail sportsbooks. “Untethered” online operators unaffiliated with existing gaming establishments could also offer statewide mobile sports wagering.
A consolidation of 12 earlier proposals, the latest bill permits betting on in-state college programs, which has been a major sticking point in the legislature. It would prohibit individual prop bets on college athletes.
The bill would tax operators 12.5% and 15% of gross gaming revenue for retail and online betting, respectively, both of which are slightly above the national median average. The current bill would also introduce the nation’s first local tax, levying an annual 1% GGR fee on all bets placed on sporting events that took place in Massachusetts.
A joint economic development committee introduced the commonwealth’s newest sports betting bill Monday and subsequently advanced it to the powerful House Ways and Means. The bill could be taken up for further discussion as early as this week.
Bill Looks to Build Momentum
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled General Court have introduced several dozen sports betting bills in the three years since the Supreme Court struck down the federal wagering ban.
Despite — or because of — the influx of bills, policymakers haven’t reached a consensus on a host of key issues, including operator access and event eligibility.
In the past decade, MGM and Wynn have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in full-scale, integrated resort casinos. Boston-based DraftKings has transformed into a sportsbook giant, and Penn National — which operates a Massachusetts gaming facility — acquired Barstool Sports, itself a former Bay State company.
These influential sports betting stakeholders headline one of the most-watched possible legal wagering markets. Massachusetts residents are among the nation’s most educated and highest earning, two demographics that correlate positively with sports betting participation, and is home to some of America’s highest-profile professional sports franchises.
The new bill would appear to satiate what will surely be widespread market interest.
The existing casinos, Wynn’s Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield, will have access to three online licenses or “skins” apiece. One each would assuredly be used for the company’s flagship WynnBet and BetMGM apps, respectively, and would presumably allow further partnerships with additional brands on commercially favorable terms.
The legislation would also grant a seemingly uncapped number of additional operators, but those not associated with the land-based casinos would pay an annual $1 million fee. All sportsbook license holders would have to pay a five-year, $5 million licensing fee.
The General Court is one of a handful of year-round state legislatures, giving lawmakers time to work through the latest bill. A best-case scenario would see a bill reach Baker’s desk by year’s end and legal wagering beginning sometime in 2022.
Getting there won’t be easy.
The bill appears to give established operators preferential treatment, but it remains to be seen if they’ll support legislation that could allow such widespread market access. College betting access, which is opposed by the state’s leading universities, will also likely remain controversial.
A positive reception in the Ways and Means Committee, which could take up the bill by week’s end, could give the bill significant momentum. Sports betting language wasn’t included in the state’s initial fiscal year 2022 budget, which is in a bicameral conference committee stage and nearing final votes, but Monday’s move indicates interest remains for legal wagering.
It’s too early to tell if this latest effort will finally push Massachusetts sports betting over the top, but a fresh, consolidated bill has renewed hope that policymakers can finally break through their multi-year legislative quagmire.