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Massachusetts House floor to debate sports betting bill on Thursday



he Massachusetts House will hold a debate Thursday on legislation that would legalize sports betting in the state, including inside stadiums, and potentially generating an estimated $70 million in annual tax revenue.

House Speaker Ronald Mariano‘s office sent an updated schedule to representatives on Monday telling them to be prepared at Thursday’s formal session to debate a revised version of Rep. Dan Cahill’s bill to legalize sports wagering. H 3974 was redrafted in the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and reported out favorably by the committee over the weekend. It could be further changed by the House Ways and Means Committee before it hits the floor Thursday. It includes wagering on esports, video games and car racing for people 21 and older, but does not yet include language about in-stadium betting.

“Recently some of the sports teams have asked us about in-stadium betting, and it’s something to look at,” said state Rep. Jerald Parisella, D-Beverly, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies,  “It is sort of the newer trend.”

The law lays out a framework for three categories of licenses — for casinos, race tracks and mobile operators. Several lawmakers are reportedly exploring amendments that would add an additional license category for retailers to allow fans to place bets in person, adjacent to or a half-mile away from a sporting facility, according to Boston Herald

“We appreciate the hard work by members of the legislature to bring legalized sports betting to the citizens of Massachusetts. As we learned last month, an overwhelming majority of voters support keeping the revenue generated by sports betting in the Commonwealth,” Plainridge Park Casino and Encore Boston Harbor said in a joint statement, State House News Service reports. “We look forward to working with legislators on this important issue and getting it across the finish line as soon as possible.” 

A June poll commissioned by Encore Boston Harbor and the Plainridge Park Casino Commission and conducted by David A. Paleologos Associates found that 61% of Massachusetts voters would support sports betting in the state. Wynn’s Everett casino is already building out a sportsbook in anticipation of legalization.

More than a dozen sports betting bills were pitched by lawmakers this session, including one by state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, which also earned a favorable committee report on Monday. Lesser’s bill would not allow gambling on college games.

Licensing fees for the three casinos, two race tracks and up to nine mobile app operators described in the bill would generate as much as $80 million for the state to start and again upon their renewal every five years, Parisella estimated. The state could cash in on another $60 million to $70 million in tax revenue annually, he said. In-person bets at casino and track retailers will be taxed at 12.5% with mobile bets costing slightly more at 15%. An additional 1% tax would be levied on wagers placed on events in Massachusetts to be distributed proportionately between the facilities that hosted the events to be used for “sports wagering security and integrity.”

The House bill as reported by the committee would put sports betting under the Gaming Commission and allow casinos, the slots parlor and simulcasting facilities, as well as horse racing tracks, to apply for licenses to take in-person wagers. They could also have between one and three mobile sports betting platforms. Mobile-only operators could also seek licenses, and all bettors would have to be physically present in Massachusetts.

The bill would also provide safeguards against destructive gambling and fund services, Parisella said. If House members approve the bill this week, it requires Senate action before heading to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk for a signature. The governor has indicated support for the measure, including sports gambling revenue in his budget proposal earlier this year.

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