Massachusetts Sports Betting Bill To Be Debated This Week

The good news for residents of Massachusetts is that legalizing mobile and retail sports betting is strongly supported by lawmakers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues between separate proposals backed by the House and the Senate.

On Thursday, the Senate is expected to begin debating a bill that advanced from the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The bill advanced without opposition and a State House News Service survey last month showed at least 60% of senators favor legalizing sports betting.

Gov. Charlie Baker also favors sports betting, and the Massachusetts House passed a sports betting bill last summer. In some respects, it all seems so simple.

Politics is rarely simple, however. And Massachusetts, like a number of states, appears conflicted on the topic of college sports betting.

The legislation passed by the House last summer allows college sports betting. The one up for debate Thursday in the Senate excludes college sports betting.

There are also major differences in the tax rates proposed by the House and Senate. The two bills also differ on the use of credit cards to fund online sports betting accounts.

In other words, even though there’s momentum for legalizing sports betting, that doesn’t mean it will happen overnight.

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College Sports An Issue For Massachusetts Sports Betting

When the House was preparing to pass Bill H.3993 last summer, House Speaker Ronald Mariano told Bloomberg Baystate Business that if college sports betting wasn’t part of the bill it “probably would be” a dealbreaker. He said college sports betting would be “probably the main driver of betting.”

But in drafting Senate Bill S.269, concerns voiced by the commonwealth’s eight Division I college programs were taken into consideration and college sports betting was omitted.

Unlike betting on professional games, states take vastly different approaches to college sports betting. Some states have no restrictions, while New York, New Jersey, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington won’t allow betting on in-state schools.

New Jersey won’t even accept wagers placed on collegiate games played in the state, even if two out-of-state schools are involved.

College presidents and athletic directors say allowing betting on their teams would present “unnecessary and unacceptable risks” to their student-athletes, among other issues.

If the Senate passes its version of the bill, members of the House and Senate will need to work together to draft a bill that can clear both branches and then present it to Gov. Baker.

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Credit Cards, Tax Rates Also On The Table

Whether or not bettors will be allowed to fund their accounts via a credit card is another area where the House and Senate see things differently. That’s also the case when it comes to the rate at which sports betting would be taxed.

Currently, there’s a huge difference between the proposals. The plan approved by the House last summer would tax a retail sportsbook’s revenue at 12.5%, while the tax rate for mobile sports betting revenue would be 15%, according to State House News Service.

The Senate, meanwhile, favors a 20% tax rate on bets placed at retail casinos and a 35% tax rate on mobile sports betting.

There will be plenty of room for negotiations between now and late July, but legal sports betting is slowly getting closer to reality in Massachusetts.

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