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Massachusetts Lawmakers Set To Get Back To Work On Wagering

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As the Boston Celtics aim to bring an NBA championship trophy home for the first time since 2008, bettors still can’t legally lay down a wager for the home team in its home state.

It’s been nearly two months since the Massachusetts Senate passed a sports betting bill, and a month since a conference committee was set to find a middle ground between how the Senate and House envision legal wagering in New England’s most populous state. On Thursday, that process will officially begin.

According to State House News Service, the conference committee will meet virtually at 2 p.m. local time Thursday. The committee is comprised of Sens. Eric Lessor, Patrick O’Connor, and Michael Rodrigues and Reps. Aaron Michlewitz, David Muradian, and Jerald Parisella. The current legislative session ends July 31, though the Massachusetts General Court will continue with an informal session through the end of the year. The House passed its version of sports betting about a year ago.

The conference committee will have to work through multiple issues, with a notable one involving whether to allow wagering on college sports. The House bill would allow for wagering on colleges, while the Senate version would not.

The chamber’s prohibition on collegiate sports wagering was likely in deference to Senate President Karen Spilka, who has been opposed to legalizing sports betting, but who said in the spring she would have voted for the Senate version had it gone to a roll-call vote, according to State House News Service. Meanwhile, industry stakeholders favor a law that would allow for betting on colleges — both in and out of Massachusetts — and say that limiting wagering on anything only allows the black market to continue to thrive.

Strict ad guidelines a key discussion point

Should it become law, the Senate bill has what would be the strictest guidelines in the U.S. around advertising and marketing and the use of credit cards to fund accounts.

Some of the requirements of the bill may, in fact, be unenforceable or wholly impractical. For example, the Senate bill would prohibit sportsbook advertising during live television events. But if a broadcast originates from out of state — whether from ESPN in neighboring Connecticut or a station in New York — how would sportsbook ads, which can be shown in other states, be scrubbed or removed?

Senators and representatives differ on many other issues, such as:

  • The Senate bill would set tax rates at 20% for retail wagering and 35% for digital wagering, while the House bill sets the rates at 12.5% and 15%, respectively.
  • The Senate bill would prohibit funding accounts with credit cards, while the House version would allow it.
  • The Senate bill would allow for one skin, or mobile platform, per physical gaming location, which would translate into three platforms being available in the state. The House bill lays out a plan that would allow for untethered digital platforms and would award retail licenses to two racetracks.
  • The House bill would allow for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks at professional sports venues, but the Senate version would not.
  • The House bill stipulates that colleges would receive 1% of the handle bet on their games when they are playing at home. The Senate bill has no such provision.

Massachusetts lawmakers first began discussing legal wagering four years ago and looked to be among the first movers in terms of legalizing. But four years later, even though DraftKings calls the state home, Massachusetts stands alongside Vermont as the only New England state that does not offer legal wagering.

Hence, as Boston battles Golden State in the NBA Finals — Game 3 is Wednesday night — it’s a good bet that Celtics fans from Massachusetts will be sitting at the borders of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, watching and wagering.



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