Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) cancelled their respective seasons on March 12 – the same day a Massachusetts sports betting bill emerged.
And while the American sports schedule has been essentially erased in the interim, lawmakers in the Commonwealth are prepared to persevere in hopes of passing House Bill 4459 by midsummer.
Co-Sponsor Explains Legislature’s Thinking Amidst Coronavirus Crisis
Speaking with SportsHandle, state senator Brendan Crighton (D-3) explained his motivation for pushing forward on regulated Massachusetts sports betting bill:
“We’ve been working on this for a few years now, and we feel like it’s been properly vetted.
All the states around us are doing it, so why are we letting the black market thrive here?
I think going with a more flexible bill is the way to go. And it has a [good] consumer protection piece.”
Asked specifically about the possibility of coronavirus concerns derailing the bill, Crighton told SportsHandle that the path to passage will continue to evolve as circumstances warrant:
“Things have changed with coronavirus, so whatever track this is on, that might be a little different.
And the annual budget, too, it could end up as part of that, as well.
I don’t know what the appetite for non-essential legislation is right now.”
Things have changed with coronavirus, so whatever track this is on, that might be a little different. And the annual budget, too, it could end up as part of that, as well. I don’t know what the appetite for non-essential legislation is right now.
Bill a Long Time Coming; but Lawmakers Will Still Take Their Time
Five different bills related to sports betting regulation were introduced last year within the Massachusetts General Court, the state’s legislative body.
From there, the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies spent a year studying the competing bills, before piecing together HB-4559 as an amalgam of each. The Joint Committee then immediately referred the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee, along with a recommendation that it “ought to pass.”
Under HB-4559, the state’s three commercial casinos, a single slot machine parlor, and various horseracing tracks would be permitted to run onsite sportsbooks.
Up to five online / mobile sportsbook providers would also be authorized to operate internet-only bet shops.
These operators – which include major gaming industry players like MGM Resorts (MGM Springfield), Wynn Resorts (Encore Boston Harbor), Penn National Gaming (Plainridge Park), and the Boston-based DraftKings – would pay application and licensing fees of $1 million. Sportsbook licenses can then be renewed every five years for an additional $500,000 fee.
Revenue derived from brick and mortar venues would be taxed at a rate of 10 percent, while online / mobile operations would be subject to a 12 percent tax.
Under that plan, the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies has pegged annual revenue estimates at $20 million.
Governor Charlie Baker (R) publicly endorsed legal sports betting back in early 2019, while introducing his own legislation to get the process started.
At the time, however, lawmakers like state representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-5) – who serves as co-chair of the Joint Committee – opted to take a more cautious route by spending the year studying the issue from all angles:
“As I think has been well reported, this is a complex issue.
It is an issue we want to be very diligent with and we want to make sure that if Massachusetts is to go forward with this, that we do it properly.”
The General Court’s formal session is scheduled to conclude on July 31, but as Crighton told SportsHandle, supporters were hoping for an expedited timeline before the coronavirus outbreak began:
“I would like to see it move along in the process, and it seemed like the House was ready to act on it, but until we get a handle on corona, I don’t expect it’s going to move all that quickly.
One of things we have talked about is that while it has taken a long time for us to get on board, it’s given us a chance to see what’s worked and what hasn’t.”