Following an amendment and floor debate, the Massachusetts Senate passed a sports betting measure (Senate Bill 2844) by voice vote on Thursday, setting the legislative process in motion on the topic after months of stagnation.
The action comes ninth months after the House passed the unamended version of the bill. The bill will return to the House for debate and approval of the changes made by the Senate. Massachusetts legislative session concludes in July, which means lawmakers have an opportunity to get a bill to the desk of the governor as soon as May.
Massachusetts Sports Betting Bill Details
The proposed bill allows for up to nine operators to run retail and/or online sportsbooks in the state, with three of them targeted specifically to existing gaming establishments — Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park. The six remaining operators must be located across several gaming regions, as outlined in the 2011 Expanded Gaming Act.
Each operator will be required to pay a $5 million operator fee for five years, as well as $5 million to renew for an additional five years. The state’s 2011 Expanded Gaming Act is designed to encourage parity among sportsbooks in the small state.
More steps being taken: Gaming regulators preparing for legal Massachusetts sports betting
Senate Says No To College Sports Betting
Last July, when the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed its sports betting bill, it permitted wagering on college sports. But the Senate bill has flipped that to a no: prohibiting sports bets on Boston College or UMass, for example, or any contest involving any school or college event.
If that provision remains in a final bill passed and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, that would mean fans in Massachusetts would be able to bet on the Super Bowl and the NBA Playoffs, but not college football or the Final Four.
That point is sure to be a controversial one for state representatives who previously debated the issue and agreed that bettors in their state could wager on college athletics. Opponents in the Senate have expressed concern that some vulnerable college students could develop gambling problems.
The Senate also slipped in other changes to the bill that seem designed to make it more difficult to place a bet on sports in Massachusetts. For example, the Senate added language that prohibits the use of a credit card to add funds to a sportsbook account.
The tax rate will need to be sorted out too. The previously passed House bill called for a 15% tax on online wagers and 12.5% on retail bets. The Senate has ratcheted those figures up to 25 and 30%, respectively. It’s possible that a conference committee involving members of both houses of the legislature could negotiate a compromise on those issues.