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Massachusetts sports betting bill crosses the finish line

1 Aug 2022

By Gary Trask
Sports bettors in Massachusetts – and the industry as a whole – woke up to positive and somewhat surprising news this morning from Speaker of the House of Representatives Ron Mariano via a post on Twitter at the Dunkin’ doughnut-maker’s hour of 5:10 a.m.

“I am proud to announce that the Sports Betting Conference Committee has reached an agreement on legislation that will legalize wagering on professional and collegiate sports in Massachusetts, bringing the immense economic benefits of a legal sports betting industry to MA,” Mariano wrote in his Tweet.

Despite numerous disagreements about the sports betting bill in the Commonwealth between the House and Senate surrounding issues such as the tax rate, number of operators, a potential advertising ban and, most notably, whether or not wagering on college sports should be allowed, the two somehow found middle ground after midnight struck on Sunday, the last scheduled day of the formal legislative session. The Senate voted 36-4 to approve Bill H5164 and it now advances to the desk of lame duck Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who has long been a proponent of bringing regulated sports betting to Massachusetts, which means he’s a heavy favorite to sign it well within the available 10-day window.

Of course, it was the 2018 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that aboloished the federal law prohibiting widespread sports betting that paved the way for today’s announcement in the Bay State. Since the demise of PASPA, 30 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have launched legal sports betting markets.

As if Mariano’s Tweet wasn’t enough, the language inside the bill finds even more welcoming news for betting enthusiasts. Bettors must be 21 or older to place a wager and credit cards will not be allowed to make deposits. Sportsbooks will be taxed 15% on net revenues from in-person wagers and 20% for online wagers and estimates say that will translate into $30 million annually in tax revenue.

But the best news of all for players came in the form of the inclusion of college sports – with stipulations – and the number of operators to choose from.

Betting on college sports will indeed be available to wager on – except for in-state colleges and universities. This is not unusual – New Jersey, one of the most prolific sports betting markets, has a similar clause – but schools like Boston College and Harvard will be fair game to bet on when playing in a “collegiate tournament” such as March Madness.

As for the number of operators, casinos and racetracks will each receive a license and there will be seven other mobile licensees. More operators means more options to choose from for pointspreads and bonus offers and while this number isn’t close to what’s offered in markets like Colorado (26) and New Jersey (21), it’s a major edge over neighboring states of Massachusetts that have been offering sports betting for years and have attracted thousands of cars with MA license plates to cross state lines to plop down sports bets.

Connecticut, which launched sports betting in September, currently has just three live operators (FanDuel, DraftKings, and SugarHouse), while in Rhode Island, there are retail books at two Bally’s properties – Bally's Twin River Lincoln or Bally's Tiverton – and mobile sports betting is run by the Rhode Island Lottery and powered by William Hill.

In New Hampshire, which introduced retail and online sports betting in late 2019, just one operator is available to players (DraftKings), both online and in a brick-and-mortar sportsbook.

Speaking of DraftKings, it’s a sure bet that it will be one of the operators setting up shop in Massachusetts since it’s based in Boston and has been at the forefront of the battle to push this bill across the finish line.

"We are thrilled that our home state has acted to protect consumers, create jobs and grow revenue in the Commonwealth," DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said in the statement today. "We particularly want to thank Speaker Mariano, Senate President Spilka, Chairs Michlewitz and Rodrigues and the members of the conference committee for their leadership. We are hopeful that the legislature will move to quickly pass this bill and Governor Baker will sign it into law.”

Another operator with a built-in home field advantage is Barstool Sportsbook. Known as “El Presidente” of Barstool Sports, the wildly popular Dave Portnoy is also a Massachusetts native and has a huge following. He made it clear on Twitter this morning that Barstool would be “coming home.”

As for the retail sportsbooks that will be popping up in Massachusetts, Encore Boston Harbor, the magnificent Wynn Resorts property that opened just outside Boston city limits three years ago, already has a space ready to roll. When the WynnBET Sports Bar was unveiled last year in September, the betting windows – albeit dormant – were installed with hopes that what transpired today would become reality.

At the new venue’s grand opening, we asked Jenny Holaday, Encore Boston Harbor President, how long it would take for the casino to actually take bets once a bill was signed, sealed and delivered, and she estimated four weeks.

“We have the org chart done, we have the job descriptions done and they’ve been approved by the (Gaming) Commission,” she said. “All we would have to do is hire and train and we would be ready to go.”
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