Executives from three Massachusetts casinos have sent a letter to a small group of state lawmakers imploring them to resolve their differences and pass a sports-betting bill before the legislative session ends on Sunday (July 31).
The letter dated Monday (July 25) was signed by Jenny Holaday, president of Encore Boston Harbor; Chris Kelley, president and COO of MGM Springfield; and Northscott Grousell, vice president and general manager of Plainridge Park Casino.
“With less than a week remaining in the legislative session, we respectfully implore you to seize on the opportunity to level the playing field in this hyper-competitive industry,” the executives wrote.
“We remain readily available to share our policy and operational expertise and working with you towards establishment of a successful sports wagering market in the Commonwealth.”
The six-member Sports Wagering Conference Committee has been meeting regularly behind closed doors since June 9 to discuss how the Massachusetts House and Senate can settle their differences with contrasting sports-betting bills passed by both chambers.
One of the most notable differences between the bills involves whether to allow wagering on college sports. The House bill would allow for betting on college sports, while the Senate version would prohibit any collegiate sports wagering.
House Speaker Ron Mariano, a Democrat, has made it clear to his colleagues that if college betting is not in the final bill, there would be no point in passing any legislation.
“I would hope, and I would ask the speaker to change that position and not take an all-or-nothing approach,” said Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka.
Spilka told WBUR in Boston on Tuesday (July 26) that lawmakers have heard from college presidents and athletic directors saying, “it is not a good thing,” and begging senators not to include college betting in those bills.
She said that college administrators know their students and that is “why in our Senate version we did not allow college [wagering], but we did allow all other sports betting.”
Spilka admitted that leaving out wagering on college sports could have an impact on future state tax revenues but then “we would be ignoring our promise” to the college administrators “who know their students the best.”
“I would like to see sports betting be concluded and passed and on the governor’s desk before the session is over,” Spilka added.
In their letter, the gaming executives reminded lawmakers of the explosive growth in the legalization of sports betting following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) in May 2018.
They also noted that sports betting is legal in the neighboring states of Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.
“No resident of the Commonwealth is more than an hour’s drive from a state where legal sports betting is available,” the letter from the casino bosses reads. “As a result, our competitors in these states are now offering a significant amenity and service we are prohibited from offering in Massachusetts.”
“Legalized sports betting in neighboring states is also costing the Commonwealth much-needed tax revenue,” the executives wrote. The letter was first published Tuesday by State House News Service.
Other significant policy differences that need to be settled before Sunday’s adjournment include the Senate bill setting the tax rate at 20 percent for retail wagering and 35 percent for mobile betting, compared with the House at 12.5 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
The Senate bill prohibits funding of accounts with credit cards, while the House version allows it.
In terms of mobile platforms, the Senate bill would allow just one skin for each of the state's three casinos plus up to six additional licensees. The House bill proposes to allow for untethered mobile platforms and would allow the state’s two racetracks to apply for licensure.
The Senate bill would also impose the strictest guidelines concerning advertising and marketing in the U.S. to date, including a prohibition on any sportsbook advertising during live sporting events on television.
Such a restriction would replicate the so-called “whistle-to-whistle” ad bans for sports betting that have been established either through industry standards or formal laws in the likes of the UK, Ireland, Germany and Australia.
“We need to take a look at the whole bill, and we could have sports betting sooner rather than later,” Spilka said.
On Thursday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) did not discuss the status of sports-betting negotiations in the legislature but did say that officials have sent an advance draft of a research report examining sports wagering's potential impact on the state to each member of the conference committee.
The report examines the revenue and economic impacts of legal sports betting across the United States, as well as sports-betting behavior observed in states and international jurisdictions.
MGC executive director Karen Wells told commissioners that she has assured lawmakers that “our team is available to answer any questions or anything they would need.”
Wells praised her staff for getting the draft report to lawmakers while they are working on this issue.