Massachusetts Senator Proposes Conservative Sports Betting BillLegalMassachusetts
Massachusetts' government is inching toward debating a sports betting bill. But, when it does, it will be considering a bill that's the result of what state Senator Eric Lesser says is "a fairly cautious approach."
Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, Lesser, who introduced the sports betting bill, said Massachusetts studies how other states have thus far handled sports betting. Then, they weighed that with what his state needs to come up with a bill that is "attempting to strike the right balance."
While much of what Lesser is proposing is similar to other states, there are also some unique features of the Massachusetts sports betting proposal. Some of these may sound a little odd to people who are familiar with sports betting in the United States and proponents of it.
Tight Restrictions on Some Aspects of Sports Betting
Massachusetts is taking a somewhat unique approach to its sports betting proposal. While it is allowing for in-person and mobile wagering (more on that in a bit), it will prohibit wagering on all collegiate and amateur sports.
This means that bettors who like to wager on NCAA football, NCAA basketball, the Olympics and plenty of other events won't be able to do so in Massachusetts, if Lesser's bill is ultimately passed as proposed.
There is some precedent for restricting betting on collegiate sports. New Jersey, for instance, bans wagering on any teams that are located in the state of New Jersey. On the other hand, Rhode Island -- one of Massachusetts' neighbors -- allows full wagering on NCAA sports.
Time will tell whether this will be a mistake on Massachusetts' part. A 2019 report, for example, found that more than 47 million people across the United States would wager roughly $8.5 billion combined on just the NCAA's March Madness basketball tournament that spring. That's an awful lot of potential wagering action that Massachusetts would miss out on.
Still, Lesser said one of the main reasons for this ban is that "all Division One schools [in the commonwealth] are against sports betting."
Another big restriction in Lesser's proposal is that people wouldn't be able to use credit cards to fund their sportsbook accounts. This has to be a big downer for sports gamblers who like to fund their accounts this way. What remains to be seen is whether this would extend to debit cards that have a Visa or Mastercard logo -- or whether it will only be in force for actual credit cards.
Mobile Wagering a Part of the Proposal
One part of Lesser's proposal that isn't so conservative is the fact that it would allow both in-person and mobile sports wagering in Massachusetts. In fact, the state's mobile wagering section of the bill is quite progressive.
In addition to making mobile wagering licenses available to brick-and-mortar casinos and their partners, Massachusetts would also allow for standalone mobile wagering licenses. This means that a company could come into the state and get a mobile sportsbook license without having to partner with a land-based casino. This could open the possibility for a quicker rollout of mobile wagering, since it eliminates a middle man in the equation.
The bill would first make available Category 1 licenses, which would allow an in-person sportsbook to be created and operate. These sportsbooks would also be allowed to partner with as many as three individually-branded mobile apps that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission approves.
Live racetracks and facilities that are authorized to offer simulcast wagering can apply for a Category 2 license. This would allow the facility to run an in-person sportsbook and partner with up to one branded mobile application. The one caveat is these facilities would have to hold at least 50 racing days a year at the actual facility.
Lesser is also proposing that Massachusetts offer up to six Category 3 licenses, which would allow a standalone mobile sportsbook to operate.
The Category 1 licenses will have a $1 million application fee and a $2.5 million initial license fee. Category 2 licenses would have a $1 million application fee as well as aa $1.5 million initial license fee. The fees for Category 3 licenses are much higher -- $2 million for the application and $7.5 million for the initial license.
Then, Lesser proposes that Massachusetts tax Category 1 and 2 licenses at 20% and Category 3 licenses at 25%. He recognized that some states have lower tax rates than that, but surrounding states such as New Hampshire and Rhode Island are "significantly higher."
Now that Lesser has unveiled his bill and held his press conference, it's time for it to go to the state legislature for debate, possible revisions and potential passage. In all, it's possible there could be some significant movement toward sports betting in Massachusetts later in 2021.