Massachusetts Governor Moves to Legalize Sports Betting

Massachusetts sports betting debate gains momentum as Gov. Baker tables bill to legalize wagering on professional sports

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker launched Thursday his own push to bring legal sports betting to the state with a bill calling for the authorization of wagering on professional sports.

Gov. Baker’s bill joined a handful of legislative pieces that were introduced to the state Legislature earlier this week and are all aiming to legalize sports betting in one form or another. Rep. Brad Hill, Rep. Dan Cullinane, Sen. Brendan Crighton, and Sen. Michael Rush are all keen to bring the activity to Massachusetts.

Under Gov. Baker’s bill, bettors would only be able to wager money on professional sports. Betting on collegiate and high school sporting events would be strictly prohibited. The piece of legislation authorizes the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to oversee and regulate the provision of sports betting on the territory of the state and to vet all license applicants.

It should be noted that Gov. Baker has undertaken a slightly different approach in the legalization of the practice. His bill allows for both in-person and mobile betting. The state’s existing casinos – MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino (as well as the soon-to-be-opened Encore Boston Harbor) will be able to form partnerships with betting providers to offer both retail and digital services.

However, interested online gambling companies will, too, be able to apply for a license from MassGaming without having to partner any of the state’s existing land-based properties. While online operators will probably welcome that opportunity, it is believed that Massachusetts’ commercial casinos would be less enthusiastic.

Betting Taxes and Other Important Provisions in Gov. Baker’s Legislation

Under Gov. Baker’s bill, retail betting will be taxed at 10% on revenue, while online wagering will be taxed at 12.5%. Interested operators will have to pay an application fee of $100,000. Approved candidates will have to pay a $500,000 licensing fee that will have to be renewed every five years.

Gov. Baker said yesterday that his legislation was modeled after New Jersey’s betting law. The latter state launched legal sports betting in June 2018, just weeks after the landmark SCOTUS ruling that lifted a federal ban on the activity. New Jersey offers both in-person and mobile betting. Digital betting accounted for approximately 63% of the overall betting handle of $1.2 billion the state’s licensed operators processed in the period between mid-June and December 31, 2018.

As mentioned earlier, if passed, Gov. Baker’s bill would only authorize betting on professional sports. Other bills on the matter tabled in recent days include provisions allowing for betting on collegiate athletics or betting on collegiate sporting events taking place outside Massachusetts.

Gov. Baker’s legislation does not propose an integrity fee/royalty for professional leagues. Rep. Cullinane’s bill, on the other hand, contains a provision that allows leagues to collect a fee out of the wagers placed on their games.

Under Rep. Hill’s bill, tax revenues would go to a health insurance fund, an education fund, and a transportation fund.

With the sports betting debate gaining momentum, Massachusetts could become the second state in New England to legalize the practice. Rhode Island went live with legal wagering late last year when its Twin River casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton launched their physical sportsbooks. State legislators are now pushing to bring mobile betting during the ongoing legislative session.

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