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Following an overwhelmingly positive vote in the state House last week, Massachusetts is moving closer to legalising sports betting. However, there are also questions about college betting and whether the state has arrived too late to realise the full financial potential that legal sports betting would bring to state coffers.
With states like Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York already allowing sports betting, Massachusetts is surrounded by states that allow it. As a result, some industry watchers believe it has missed out on any potential first-mover advantage.
If passed, Bill H3977 will legalise in-person and mobile gambling on professional sports, college sports (except bets on individual players), esports, and video games. Operators will pay a 15 percent tax on mobile betting, which will be cut to 12.5 percent for in-person betting due to the increased costs that casinos face.
The bill, which is unique to Massachusetts, allows for untethered licencing, allowing mobile sportsbooks to operate without having to collaborate with an established sportsbook. The application fee is $100,000, with a five-year licence charge of $5 million, renewable for another five years for another $5 million.
Senator Eric Lesser’s Senate Bill S269, which is currently in the Ways and Means Committee, is also in competition for passing. Unlike H3977, it excludes betting on college sports and has been labelled as the bill that Governor Charlie Baker is most likely to sign. Baker, a proponent of sports betting, introduced a measure in 2019 that prohibited wagering on college sports.
While college athletics may prove to be a stumbling block – and, according to some, a deal breaker – the hurry to pass legislation is obvious among state officials, notably Republican Jerald Parisella, Chair of the Committee on Economic Development.
He was quoted in a Boston.com report as saying: “Some may say that this is bringing sports betting to Massachusetts. The fact is that our Massachusetts residents are already betting on sports.
“They’re either taking that short drive up to New Hampshire or to Rhode Island, where it’s legal, or they’re also going on their phones and using offshore applications, those sportsbooks, to bet or they’re also going to a bookie.
“But what this does do is it brings it out of the shadows and into the light, and makes it legal in Massachusetts.”
Republican Andy Vargas, speaking to the Patriot Ledger, said: “I represent a district which borders New Hampshire. In Haverhill, you can literally walk across the border into New Hampshire and place a bet. I know that my constituents who partake in sports wagering would rather place these bets in their homes and in their own state and would rather have any revenue collected going towards benefiting their home state of Massachusetts.”