Sports Betting Coming to the Bay State

fenway park boston red sox stadium
A general view of the Fenway Park sign on the grandstand. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP

The Massachusetts legislature has passed a comprehensive sports betting bill that awaits the governor’s signature.

But despite several optimistic timelines, online sports betting likely won’t arrive in the Commonwealth for several months and might even miss this upcoming NFL season.

A Tale of Two Bills

The Massachusetts House of Representatives moved swiftly and decisively in crafting a sports betting bill that took the most effective elements from other bills of a similar nature in states that had already passed and successfully launched online gambling.

The House’s Proposal

The House bill included a relatively low tax for retail and online operators, as well as a provision for betting on college sports.

Both features have proven effective in that the sports betting operators can spend more on advertising and promotions over the long term which ultimately wins more customers and will generate more tax revenue.

The inclusion of college sports is also critical because it brings in as much as 60% of the overall revenue, and without it, bettors will flee to neighboring states or pick up the phone and call their local bookie.

Old habits die hard and in order to get Massachusetts residents to become accustomed to betting with one or more of the licensed Bay State operators, they need the whole enchilada of betting markets and opportunities.

The Senate’s Counter-Proposal

Although the House created a bill that was both pragmatic and representative of what has been working best in other states, the Senate was quite the opposite.

Senate President, Karen Spilka, avoided the issue for several months. Her insouciance bordered on arrogance considering how many Massachusetts voters had been clamoring for it, as well as the casinos that pay beaucoup dough to the Bay State.

However, when the Senate finally addressed the issue and cobbled together their own version of a sports betting bill, it excluded college sports and had a much higher tax on both the online and retail operators. The dealbreaker for House Speaker Ron Mariano was college betting and on that, he would not bend.

What’s in the Bill?

If this were a boxing match, the House would have won by a TKO. Although they didn’t get everything on their wish list, college sports did make it through with the exception of local college teams. But the absurd caveat is that if any Massachusetts colleges or universities make it through to a national tournament then they would be allowed on the betting menu.

If that provision doesn’t smack of not wanting to be wrong even when you know you are then we’re not sure what does. Apparently, the Senate believes college kids are in danger of being bribed by ne’er-do-wells during the regular season but not during the biggest games they will play all year. Absurd.

As for the tax rate, it more closely resembled the House’s version than the Senate’s. It will be a reasonable 15% for retail sportsbooks and 20% for online operators.

It will certainly create interest with the national operators such as FanDuel, DraftKings, and Caesars, while WynnBet and BetMGM will also be options due to both companies having the only two full casinos in the state.

Ready to Launch?

Governor Charlie Baker has not yet signed the bill but by all reports, his signature is a foregone conclusion. However, the timing of the launch has run the gamut from September to March and it appears as though the latter is a much more reasonable target than the former.

Martin Lycka, a senior vice president at sports betting firm Entain, said sports betting is here to stay in Massachusetts. “There’s no need to rush it,” he said.

“There’ll be the next football season. And let’s say Massachusetts ends up taking five, six months to get this off the ground, then, throughout next year, there will be a number of other marquee, needless to say, sports events.”

Politicians Are in No Rush

The Massachusetts Gaming Commissioner, Brad Hill, took a cautious approach to the launch when he stated, “We need to take our time. I’ve seen some quotes in the newspaper from the public and others that they hope to have this thing up and running in a very, very short amount of time.

“And I just want the public to be clear, at least from my view, I’m not speaking for the whole commission, but from my point of view, this is going to take a little longer than people probably anticipate.”

Sports betting has finally arrived in Massachusetts – a few years too late but better late than never.

However, those waiting for the launch shouldn’t hold their breath because in Massachusetts few things run smoothly or on time. Just ask anyone who ever rode the MBTA.