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MA betting saga takes late twist as House rejects Senate bill


The Massachusetts House of Representatives has rejected an amended version of its economic development omnibus bill returned by the Senate, in a decision that could reopen the door for legal sports betting in the state.

Earlier this week, the House Committee on Ways and Means introduced H.4879, an act designed to enable “partnerships for growth” in the state, setting out a host of measures.

Among these was a proposal to legalize sports wagering in-person, online and on mobile, with a number of rules related to licensing, tax and regulatory authority included.

Though the House passed an amended version of the bill, including a 30% gross revenue tax.

However, the Senate then voted to replace the renumbered H.4887 with amendment S.2842, which removed the section on sports betting, as well as provisions for online lottery sales.

Several amendments were put forward by members of the Senate in an effort to add sports betting language to the bill, though one was rejected and another two withdrawn before they went to a vote.

When the bill passed back to the House for concurrence yesterday (July 30), it was rejected, which means it will die in the chamber if a compromise cannot be reached. This must happen by the end of today (July 31), when the state legislative session is due to end.

As a result, a conference committee has been appointed to strike a deal. This comprises three Representatives –  Aaron Michlewitz, Ann-Margaret Ferrante, and Donald Wong – and Eric Lesser, Michael Rodrigues and Patrick O’Connor from the Senate.

The committee will report a final compromise bill to the House and Senate for a final vote of acceptance in each branch. This could see the sports betting and online lottery language reincorporated into the bill.

Among the key sports betting measures set out in the original House bill were proposals to introduce three licenses. A Category 1 license would cover online, mobile and in-person sports betting; Category 2 in-person betting at racetracks; and Category 3 sports betting via mobile or online.

Licenses would cost $250,000 and run for five years, after which the holder would need to pay $100,000 to renew the permit for another five years.

License-holders would pay a fee based on the amount of wagers taken on sports events at venues inside Massachusetts. This was set at a rate of 1% of adjusted gross sports wagering receipts, reduced to 0.25% at a later date.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission would be established under the bill and have responsibility for awarding licenses to operators.

Operators were faced with a tax rate of 15% of adjusted gross sports wagering receipts, but this was raised to 30% as one of a host of amendments approved by the House.

Other amendments – approved by a vote of 157-1 – included a measure to also legalize online lottery sales. This amendment would have also allowed the state Lottery Commission to “implement promotional activities” to encourage sales of lottery tickets. These too were removed in the Senate amendment.

Players would have been able to self-exclude from online lottery, as well as set maximum deposit and spending limits.