Massachusetts Sports Betting Legalization Hangs in the Balance

  • The House rejected an amended Senate bill that would legalize sports betting and online lottery
  • A compromise committee featuring three Representatives and three Senators was created
  • Some Senators favor legalizing sports betting, but not as part of this economic development bill
  • The current legislative session ends on July 31, but there is a push to have it extended
Wooden figures on either side of a scale
The Massachusetts House and Senate are battling over legalizing sports betting in an economic expansion bill. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Back and forth

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has rejected the Senate’s amended version of an economic development bill. As a result, sports betting legalization could be back on the table in the state.

The Senate amended bill H.4887, removing sports betting legalization and the allowance for online lottery ticket sales. The new bill, S.2842, was rejected on July 30 when it was sent to the House for concurrence. 

A compromise committee has been put together in an attempt to find an agreeable solution. The three Representatives on the committee are Donald Wong, Ann-Margaret Ferrante, and Aaron Michlewitz. The three Senators are Patrick O’Connor, Michael Rodrigues, and Eric Lesser. 

The committee will submit a final compromise bill to the Senate and House, with both sets of lawmakers voting on the issue. There is a chance that the lottery and sports betting components of the original bill will make it into this compromise legislation. If there is agreement on a compromise bill, it will then be sent to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk to be signed into law.

Senate concerns

While there were several Senate members who tried to keep sports betting language as part of the amended bill, their efforts were not successful. One amendment proposal was rejected, while two others were withdrawn before there was a vote. The amended $455m economic development bill was then unanimously approved by the Senate on Wednesday night

I believe that certainly the time is close when we are going to be tackling this issue, but the time is not now.”

Commenting on the removal of sports betting from the bill was Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman, Senator Michael Rodrigues. He said: “As it relates to sports gaming, sports wagering, I believe that certainly the time is close when we are going to be tackling this issue, but the time is not now.” Senator Eric Lesser is in favor of legalizing sports betting this year but believes it should not be a part of the economic development bill.

The current legislative session is set to end on July 31. However, because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused numerous legislative delays, the House has adopted an order that would extend the legislative session. The issue is now in the hands of the Senate.

Sports betting legalization

The original bill would have legalized retail and online sports betting, as well as online lottery ticket sales. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission would be oversee the licensing of sports betting operators. The Massachusetts Lottery Commission would also have the ability to use different promotional strategies to encourage people to purchase tickets, such as offering prepaid gift cards.

Originally, there was a proposed 15% tax on sports betting gross gaming revenue. An amendment, however, doubled this rate to 30%. Numerous professional sports teams in the state are in favor of legalizing sports betting.

The amended bill H.4879 was renumbered as H.4887 and passed by a 156-3 vote in the House earlier this week before making its way to the Senate.