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Are MA Sports Betting Proposals Too Far Apart To Make A Deal?


There has been very little said in the days since the Massachusetts Senate passed its own version of an MA sports betting bill.

What has been said, though, is telling of the work in front of both sides. The Senate had about 10 months to work on its draft with the House’s proposal in mind, yet it still passed something completely different.

Some of those differences, of course, could be simply for negotiating leverage. A compromise to legalize Massachusetts sportsbooks might be hard to find if both sides hold steady though.

House holding cards on college sports betting ban

Senate Speaker Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano held a joint press conference last week but it did not shed much light on the situation.

Mariano was asked about his stance on banning all college betting. Last year, he said a total ban “probably would be” a dealbreaker for him.

“I think we have to face the fact they’re leaving half the — a large portion of the betting in the hands of the black market,” Mariano said.

He essentially repeated himself when pressed if the House could accept the Senate’s approach.

Not all senators happy with MA sports betting bill

Sen. Patrick O’Connor was college betting’s biggest advocate on the Senate floor, with three amendments on S 2844 approving some level of college betting. While he had time to speak his mind, he eventually withdrew all three amendments without more public discussion.

“But for us as a body to not include the college sports industry completely missed the point of what we’re doing today and almost misses half of the revenue as well,” O’Connor said.

The sports betting bill and the issues clearly already decided before Senate floor debate points to a bigger issue, Sen. Diana DiZoglio told the Springfield Republican:

“This is yet another example of why we need shared leadership. There should be full transparency and accountability around policy — around not just this piece of legislation but all legislation that continues to get held up based on politics, not the democratic process.”

Boston Globe calls out lack of transparency

The Boston Globe‘s editorial board also weighed in Monday on the Senate’s secrecy.

There were 69 amendments introduced on the bill, but only 18 passed and many went unheard. At the end of debate, the Senate also allowed the bill to pass without a roll call vote.

“The existence of multiple amendments is even more reason to have senators cast individual votes for the ultimate product that emerges from all that sausage-making,” the editorial said. “Meanwhile, the suggestion that constituents must watch hours of debate via livestream to find out where their senator stands on any given issue does not exactly jibe with the realities of life.”

Other significant differences in bills

There are a couple of other big hurdles to negotiate between the two bills:

  • The Senate proposed a much higher rate at 35% for mobile and 20% for retail, compared to 15% and 12.5% respectively in the House. The gap is even bigger than it looks, though. The Senate does not allow for promotional deductions while the House does, which would drop the effective tax rate even lower.
  • The Senate bill also offers fewer licenses, with a minimum of nine compared to a minimum of 11, and amendments to increase the licenses failed on the Senate floor.
  • Also failing on the floor was an amendment removing prohibitive marketing requirements in the Senate bill. Those requirements would ban gambling advertisements during games and limit how promos and giveaways can be marketed.

What is MA sports betting timeline?

There has not yet been any public disclosure of who will be on the conference committee and when the two sides will meet. That is not surprising as much of this has been kept close to the chest and will likely continue that way.

The sides have until July 31, the end of the formal session, to reach a compromise. An informal session will also run through Jan. 2, 2023.

Massachusetts failing to legalize sports betting would be one of the biggest failures in US sports betting this year. The state’s potential tax revenue would continue to flow outside of its borders, as it is nearly surrounded by states with legal betting:

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