Bay State Continues to Stall Sports Betting Bill

TD Garden Boston Massachusetts
A general view of TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images/AFP

While other states have successfully launched online gambling and are reaping the financial benefits, Massachusetts has failed to do so. And unless the legislators can come to a consensus, it may not happen anytime soon.

NFL Season Looms

The dangling carrot for all states trying to get over the sports betting finish line is the NFL and college football season. This is the biggest sports gambling season in North America and if you are a politician who wants a vibrant new revenue source for your state then now is the time.

However, the Massachusetts legislative session ends July 31st so there is still plenty of time to craft an agreement. Yet, there is a distinct difference of opinion between the House and Senate as to what a sports betting bill should include in the Bay State. 

Parisella Beliefs

Rep. Jerry Parisella, the co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, believes the deal will get done as virtually all of his colleagues are on board with some form of sports betting bill.

“Only update is that we are still working out the differences and hopeful to get a bill to the floor before the end of the session,” Parisella said last week.

What’s the Problem?

The Massachusetts House was quick and decisive in passing a sports betting bill, 156-3, and quickly sent it over to the Senate. However, the upper chamber was not nearly as nimble and the bill languished under Senate President Karen Spilka’s stewardship. 

After several months, the Senate finally did pass a bill but it looked far different than the one the House had approved. The main difference, besides the tax rates imposed on the operators, was the exclusion of college sports. 

Consequences of Eliminating NCAA Sports from the Menue

While this doesn’t seem to be a big deal to the uninitiated, the elimination of NCAA sports from the online betting menu has been shown to cost states up to 60 percent of their tax revenue.  Imagine a college football or basketball Saturday with dozens upon dozens of games on the docket but Massachusetts residents being unable to bet them.

What will happen next is precisely what is happening now, the Bay State residents will flee to neighboring states that have college betting on their menus such as New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.

The House bill calls for a 12 ½ percent tax on retail sportsbooks and 15 percent for online betting operators while the Senate has dug in on a 20 and 35 percent tax for retail and digital, respectively.

Advertising Ban

The Massachusetts Senate does not seem to have the requisite facts or is content to conveniently ignore them as to what works and what doesn’t in terms of online sports betting. The august body appears more concerned with what looks good as opposed to what is right when setting up a nascent industry for success.

The other sticking point is advertising. The House has no issues with online providers advertising their products but the Senate is wringing its hands over the industry’s need to spread the word.

Bill Miller Taking Action

Bill Miller, CEO of the American Gaming Association, wrote a letter in May that explained why advertising is so critical to legal, licensed, U.S. sportsbooks and much of it has to do with educating the public that there is a difference between offshore sites and those that operate with the blessing of the U.S. government.

“Advertising is a critical tool in new markets to inform the public about which sportsbooks are legal and regulated, as well as to ensure customers receive responsible gaming messages. From the start, our industry’s top priority has been getting sports betting right and that includes advertising. 

The AGA’s Responsible Marketing Code on Sports Wagering sets a high standard for operators by prohibiting targeting underage and vulnerable populations and mandates inclusion of responsible gambling resources.”

TheRx will continue to monitor this story and will update our readers as events unfold.