BOSTON — Lawmakers fumbled the ball with legalized sports betting as other states cashed in, but Massachusetts may finally get a piece of the action.
A proposal approved by the state Legislature in the final hours of its two-year session early Monday would authorize sports wagering and associated taxes, and regulate what has developed into a multibillion-dollar industry.
Under the plan, sports betting would be regulated by the state Gaming Commission, and operators would be taxed at 15% of gross retail wagering sales and 20% for online and fantasy sports wagers. Operators would be required to pay a licensing fee of $5 million, which must be renewed every five years.
Unlike previous plans, the bill awaiting action by Gov. Charlie Baker allows in-state betting on college sports – just not Massachusetts universities and colleges, unless they are participating in national or regional tournaments.
If the move survives Baker’s veto pen, Massachusetts will join 30 other states in authorizing sports wagering, and tax and regulate the multibillion-dollar industry.
Rep. Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly, said the legislation will “allow fans to bet on their favorite teams but do so in a regulated manner that promotes responsible gaming, while bringing in millions of dollars of revenue that has been going to our neighboring states or to illegal online operators and bookies.”
Legislative leaders estimate that the state would get about $60 million a year in revenue from wagers, in addition to upwards of $80 million in licensing fees from operators.
Betting on college games proved to be a sticking point in negotiations between the House and Senate on a final bill. House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, argued that college wagering would likely be one of the largest drivers of wagering and has said leaving it out of the final package could be a “deal breaker” for him.
Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, expressed concerns about that, citing opposition from many of the state’s college and university presidents. The Senate’s version of the bill didn’t include bets on college sports.
The proposal is the latest attempt to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts four years after a U.S. Supreme Court court ruling allowed states to offer wagering.
Lawmakers debated similar bills through the years, but none won approval. Many died in the Senate, which has been reluctant to approve sports betting.
The latest effort has broad support from legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Baker, who filed his own sports wagering proposals in the previous session.
Baker’s proposal, however, didn’t allow betting on college sports.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law barring sports gambling in nearly all states except Nevada, paving the way for wagers on games. The case involved New Jersey, which fought for years to allow sports gambling at casinos and racetracks.
Since then, at least 30 states, along with Washington, D.C., have passed sports waging laws.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has boasted that more than $1 billion has been wagered since sports betting became legal in the state two years ago, making it the “premier sports betting destination in the Northeast.” A sizable portion of bets are placed by Massachusetts residents, according to the state Lottery.
Boston-based DraftKings, the MGM Springfield casino and professional sports franchises such as the Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics are all angling for a piece of the market when sports betting is finally legalized in Massachusetts.
DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said the legislation will “protect consumers, create jobs and grow revenue” in the state and urged Baker to sign the final bill.