State legislators in Massachusetts are struggling to agree on rules for legalizing and regulating Massachusetts sports betting. The Commonwealth has been a late mover in the gambling world. It only allowed the first casinos in 2018.

As more and more states regulate gambling in an attempt to fill budget holes, Massachusetts sports betting may be slipping further away—State Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) believes he has a solution.

Sports Betting Would Be Run by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission

Sen. Lesser’s SD 2365 would allow regulated sports betting to be controlled by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Legalized sports wagering is already the law of the land in neighboring New Hampshire and Rhode Island, with Connecticut not far behind. Therefore, it is important the Bay State gets its betting regime up and running.

Earlier sports betting bills were dropped from a comprehensive economic development bill. Sen. Lesser hopes that if sports gaming is debated separately from other political needs, it will get a fair hearing. Instead of being subject to tactical opposition from opponents of other policies, a vote SD 2365 would force legislators to take a firm stand. Expanded gambling options are extremely popular throughout the United States.

Opposition Compares Sports Betting to Loan Sharks

The opposition to legalized sports betting in Massachusetts is led by a lobbyist with the Stop Predatory Gambling organization. The Washington, D.C. based group attempts to claim that gambling is a form of financial fraud “similar to loan-sharking, price-gouging, and false advertising.” All three of those practices are explicitly outlawed in the Commonwealth. SD 2365 would regulate wagering, similar to state laws limiting the interest banks could charge on loans.

Other opposition may come from the actual rules included in SD 2365. Senator Jamie Eldrige (D-Middlesex) appears on-board with allowing online sports betting. However, he is expressing concerns about allowing retail sports wagering in casinos, slot parlors, and horse racing tracks. In his opinion, mobile betting is different because it does not have “an atmosphere where everything is designed to keep you there spending more money…”

In a lot of ways, Massachusetts’ approach to gambling, even through its recent grudging expansion, reveals the state’s puritanical roots.

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Massachusetts Sports Betting Licenses

Implementing the licenses and rules for wagering in Massachusetts will fall to the state’s Gaming Commission. SD 2365 calls for a 21-year-old minimum age for sports betting and approves three tiers of operator licenses:

  • Category 1 licenses would allow the state’s land-based casinos and slot parlors to offer live, retail sportsbooks. Application fees are set at $1 million, with an additional $2.5 million license fee.
  • Category 2 licenses would be aimed at racetracks offering 50 plus days of live racing per year. These locations could run an in-person sportsbook for a $1 million application fee and an added $1.5 million for a license.
  • Category 3 licenses would be limited to six operators of online and mobile betting. The application fee for these licenses would be $2 million, with a whopping $7.5 million initial license cost.

DraftKings, an industry heavyweight headquartered in Boston, is likely to lobby against both the number of mobile licenses and the high fees.

The Bill Includes High Taxes and No College Betting

Sen. Lesser plan is to tax in-person betting revenue at 20%. Mobile operators would be required to pay 25% of their receipts as taxes. Both rates are higher than the general standard seen in other states.

Additionally, SD 2365 would prohibit wagers on amateur sports. Betting on college football and basketball is big business. Other states, like New Jersey, attempt to avoid issues by not allowing bets on schools within their borders. Massachusetts would have a blanket prohibition, not just on UMass, Boston College, and other local programs.

Despite the bill’s limitations, Sen. Lesser defends his cautious approach to legalization. Facing opposition from those who believe expanded gaming is one challenge. However, another is not legislating boldly. SD 2365 may also face resistance from lawmakers who believe that minority-owned businesses will be shut out of the licenses.

Joe Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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