It took five hours and 13 adopted amendments, but the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday in favor of sports betting coming to the Commonwealth.
And the vote wasn’t even close.
H.3977 flew through the House with 156 “Yes” votes, three “No” votes and one “Present” vote. It was a dominant performance by pro-betting legislators that have been busy over the last week. The bill now moves to the Senate for further deliberation and discussion.
“What a momentous day in the Commonwealth,” Rep. Dan Cahill (D-Lynn) said on Beacon Hill. “People in my district are ecstatic. I feel like I hit the jackpot that the Chairman from Beverly — Rep. Jerry Parisella (D) — decided to use my bill as a vehicle for today’s events.
“People are allowed to have fun,” Cahill continued. “And sports betting is fun. But for some time now, people in our districts haven’t been able to do it. So they go out of state to make their bets. It’s happening and it’s going to continue to happen. (This bill) would allow us to recapture those revenues that leave this state.”
Massachusetts residents have been crossing the border in droves to place legal bets in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, plus Connecticut will launch sports betting in September. So the squeeze is real and lawmakers clearly want to keep all those dollars inside state lines.
Rep. Parisella told his peers in session that the Commonwealth could see $70 million in revenue from initial license fees and estimated that sports betting could generate $60 million in annual revenue.
H.3977 would allow statewide mobile wagering and three types of licenses: casinos, race tracks and untethered mobile sportsbooks. Untethered operators would be able to apply for a license without an affiliation to a brick-and-mortar location.
In-person bets would be taxed at 12.5 percent with mobile wagers a tick higher at 15 percent. And the price to join the party is $100,000 for application and $5 million for a five-year license.
MGM and Wynn would be surefire operators at their MGM Springfield and Encore Harbor locations and odds are good that Penn National would bring its Barstool Sportsbook to Plainridge Park. If the bill passes as is, other operators (DraftKings, FanDuel, FOX Bet, PointsBet, etc.) would be able to apply without having to align with a physical property.
The biggest elephant in the room is college sports wagering. H.3977 would allow bets on the outcome of college sports outcomes, but not on performances of individual players. Senator Eric Lesser’s bill (S.269) does not legalize college sports betting and that bill still hasn’t been scheduled for a vote.
“This speaker’s mission was to make sure that the NCAA was protected,” Rep. Mike Soter (R-Bellingham) said in session. “He wanted to make sure that we took illegal sports gaming — which is one of the biggest problems in the NCAA — and bring it out of the shadows. Out of the darkness. We bring it to the forefront so we know that we have clean sports programs and we take the pressure off of young players in the NCAA.”
All in all, a 156-3-1 vote is massive for the momentum of sports betting legalization in Massachusetts. State senators have stonewalled a lot of hope in the past, but it’s clear this time around that lawmakers have done their homework and drafted a bill that will make the masses happy.
My guess is that the Senate hears the bill next week while others believe it won’t happen until after the August recess. If the Senate finally approves and Gov. Baker eventually signs the dotted line, a realistic timeline for launch could be January or February 2022.
“Some folks wanted this to happen a lot sooner,” Cahill admitted. “But I think this happened at the right time. We studied the issue, we vetted it with the public and this bill is a reflection of our core values and the willingness to listen to people and what they actually want.”