‘Everybody Wants This Legislation’: Massachusetts Lawmakers Making Progress On Legal Sports Wagering

House Bill No. 3977 was amended and then passed by Massachusetts representatives on Thursday by a vote of 156-3. The legislation will now head to the state’s Senate.

Last Updated: Jul 22, 2021 8:04 PM ET Read Time: 4 min
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The Massachusetts House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill on Thursday that may finally bring legal sports betting to the commonwealth — provided it clears a few more hurdles. 

House Bill No. 3977 was amended and then passed by Massachusetts representatives by a vote of 156-3. The legislation will now head to the state’s Senate for further study.

If the Senate approves H. 3977 without further amendments, it can be sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. If amended, the two chambers will have to agree on the changes before the bill can collect that signature. The Senate also has its own sports betting-related legislation it could tackle instead.

However, during Thursday’s discussion of H. 3977, Rep. Michael J. Soter told the House that it was time for them to “send a message” to the Senate that residents want the sports-betting legislation passed. 

“Turn on the radio, turn on the news,” Soter said. “Everybody wants this legislation. We don't have to go to a ballot or find out where people in the Commonwealth are. We know where they are. Listen to them, you represent them.” 

The latest out of Massachusetts follows a committee hearing in June for which the subject was 19 different bills related to sports betting. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has also been pushing for legislative action on sports betting since January 2019, highlighting both the interest of state lawmakers in the issue and their inability to get legalization legislation passed. 

Another ongoing factor grating on politicians is that neighboring states, such as New Hampshire, have already legalized sports betting and could be luring gamblers and gambling revenue away from Massachusetts. 

“Some may say that this is bringing sports betting to Massachusetts,” Rep. Jerry Parisella told the House on Thursday. “The fact is that our Massachusetts residents are already betting on sports.”

H. 3977, as currently written, would legalize sports wagering in the state and put it under the oversight of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Bettors would have to be at least 21 years of age. 

Wagers that would be allowed in Massachusetts under the provisions of H. 3977 include single-game bets, parlays and on point totals. However, prop bets on the performances of individual college athletes, high school games, and on injuries are among the wagers that will not be permitted.

The current version of the bill allows for three categories of licenses for sports betting, the first of which permits in-person wagering at casinos and up to three individually-branded mobile apps or websites. 

A “Category 2” license would allow in-person sports betting at live horse-racing tracks or facilities where simulcast wagering on races takes place. The license would also allow for one individually-branded mobile app or website.  

Those two classes of licensee would need a Category 3 license for their online sports-betting operations, as the open-ended third class permits the operation of sports wagering via mobile and other digital platforms. 

Category 1 and 2 license holders could strike agreements related to online wagering with a Category 3 licensee. However, H. 3977 was amended on Thursday so that there is no obligation for a Category 3 licensee to “partner with or have any commercial relationship” with the other two classes of licensee.

H. 3977 allows the state's three casinos and two racetracks with simulcasting to open physical sportsbooks, Parisella said. 

The casinos would also have three mobile "skins" attached to their license and the race tracks would receive one. Each license would come with a $5-million fee, meaning that if all licenses are granted, the state could receive $70 million to $80 million in fees alone, Parisella said.

Operators would be taxed 12.5 percent of their adjusted gross sports wagering revenue from in-person bets and 15 percent from online action. There would also be a one percent tax on revenue generated from sporting events taking place in Massachusetts that would be "proportionately" paid to the facilities hosting those games for security and integrity purposes.

A bit of homework

Enabling sports betting in corner stores is something that could be examined as well. If the bill becomes law, the gaming commission would be required to study the possibility of allowing retail stores in the state to run sports-wagering kiosks. The study would have to be completed before the end of 2022.

Another study inserted into the bill on Thursday would require the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to look at the feasibility of professional sports teams and facilities running sports-betting operations of their own. Like the retail study, the pro sports report would be due before the end of 2022. 

Even with work left to do, the latest attempt at legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts has been moving briskly. H. 3977 was reported out of the House's Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday and was substituted in for another sports-betting bill that combined a dozen other pieces of legislation and that only emerged from another committee on Monday.

“This is not an opportunity that we should wait any longer,” Rep. Andres Vargas said on Thursday. “Dozens of states, including our neighbors, have already done it and we need to catch up.”  

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