As the beginning of August approached, it seemed that the legalization of sports betting in Massachusetts was picking up momentum and could finally be approved making it the 19th state to legalize sports wagering.
Lawmakers had conveniently placed sports betting in an economic bill designed to respond to the economic crisis that the state finds itself in due to the pandemic. The House approved this bill and sports betting proponents were very optimistic.
Unfortunately, the hopes of sports betting in 2020 was crushed when the Senate rejected several amendments in this bill including all of the sections pertaining to sports betting.
The opposition felt that a gaming expansion was not in the best interest of the state when dealing with an emergency response to the economic crisis. At least, not at this time.
The Bill Overwhelmingly Passed in the House
Bill H4887 passed in the House with a vote of 156-3 in favor of this legislation which included sports betting. In regards to this industry, the goal was to fast track it in order to allow the state’s casinos and racetracks the ability to offer sports betting as soon as possible.
In addition to the general inclusion, the bill also had details regarding this industry specifically in the case of sports betting licenses. Lawmakers wanted these licenses to be untethered meaning that an operator didn’t need to be tied to a physical location.
Initially, FanDuel and DraftKings were the only operators that qualified for the “untethered licenses”. However, an amendment in bill H4887 would open up the market to allow more licenses.
This amendment would make it possible for any operator that has a sportsbook in at least two states for a period of one year or more to apply for a license. In total, the state was going to allow up to seven online sports betting licenses, which five were believed to already be taken.
Licenses were set at a fee of $250,000 dollars for a five year period. There was also an option for a temporary license at $50,000 dollars. The tax rate was set at 15% of the betting revenue, which was on par with many other states.
Which Operators Were Believed to Hold the Sports Betting Licenses?
As mentioned, it’s not clear as to which companies were going to get these licenses other than DraftKings and FanDuel. Yet, industry experts believed that they had pegged who they were.
It was widely assumed that the state’s three casino operators would be granted online licenses. MGM Resorts and Penn National each already have their own online brands in other states known as BetMGM and Barstool Sportsbook. So, it would be a smooth transition in bringing these into the state.
Then there is Wynn Resorts who uses Stadium Technology for sports betting out of its Las Vegas casinos. They also have partnerships with BetBull in Indiana and Colorado along with Scientific Games in New Jersey.
Most pundits believed that the final two sports betting licenses were set to go to William Hill US and BetRivers.
When looking over this list of potential operators, not only was it filled with the state’s casinos, but it was also filled with the top sportsbooks in the nation. These are all powerful gaming entities pushing for the legalization of sports betting in Massachusetts.
Why Did the Senate Nix Sports Betting?
At the end of July, the Senate unanimously passed a $455 million dollar economic crisis bill in order to provide aid to a struggling economy. Unfortunately, not all amendments were approved. In fact, the majority of amendments that the Senate nixed all had to do with sports betting.
The biggest reason for opponents in the Senate to vote against sports betting was the timing of it. State leaders like Senator Michael Rodrigues felt that this bill was not the proper vehicle for sports betting.
“This specific bill on this specific day, which we pointed out earlier in our session when debate began is about an emergency response economically to the coronavirus depression that we find ourselves in.”
Of course, not everyone was in agreement with these Senators. There were some that felt the language in the amendment should have been left in as they cited that legalized sports betting could help give the state’s economy a boost.
What Happens Next?
Since the House and Senate have passed two different versions of an economic crisis bill, they will need to reconcile these differences before a final draft of the bill can be sent to the Governor’s desk.
Some of the House’s most vocal proponents for sports betting are expected to continue the fight to include this industry into the economic development bill. However, that fight appears more futile with each passing day.
More than likely, sports betting won’t be live until 2021. Although the delay is unpleasant, it’s a step in the right direction considering last year many state leaders were against this idea altogether.
As several Senators pointed out, rejecting sports betting in this bill wasn’t due to not wanting it legalized in the near future, just not through this bill.
In all likelihood, sports betting will need to be addressed in a separate bill that lays out the legislation for what this expanded gaming industy would look like in the state.
As for those the sports bettors residing in Massachusetts, they will continue to head to neighboring states like New Jersey and Rhode Island in order to place legal wagers. Obviously, these two states are reaping the benefits of Massachusetts slow crawl towards legalizing sports betting.
As a longtime freelance writer, avid sports fan, former athlete, and experienced sports bettor, Rick Rockwell has risen up the ranks at GamblingSites.org to become the self-professed "King of the Blog" in his first year with the site. ...
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