A small group of lawmakers from the Massachusetts House and Senate met for the first time on Thursday (June 9) to begin discussions on how they can settle their differences with contrasting sports-betting bills.
The Sports Wagering Conference Committee introduced themselves very briefly on a livestream during the two minutes the group's first meeting was open to the public and press before lawmakers voted unanimously to continue their discussions in executive session.
Democratic Senator Michael Rodrigues opened the meeting by promising that the committee would work “very hard” to adopt a conference report and advance a compromise version of bill H.3993 to the desk of Republican Governor Charlie Baker.
Baker, who supports legalizing sports betting, told reporters that there are a “lot of people who literally just drive out of Massachusetts so that they can bet on sports.”
“We probably hear more about sports betting from our constituents than just about anything else, so I’m looking forward to working with you, your Senate colleagues and my House colleagues to come to a compromise,” Representative Jerald Parisella, a Democrat, said after Rodrigues opened the meeting.
Major divisions remain between the two bills passed by the House last year and by the Senate this April, including possible restrictions on wagering on college sports, tax rates, licensees, online skins, tax rates and advertising rules.
The other members of the committee are Senators Eric Lesser, a Democrat, and Republican Patrick O’Connor, while Representatives David Muradian, a Republican, and Aaron Michlewitz, a Democrat, are the two other House members.
It has been about two months since the Senate passed S 2844, an amended version of the House bill, and a month since the conference committee was established to bridge the differences after the House opted not to concur with the Senate changes to the bill.
The House overwhelmingly passed its version in July 2021 by a 156-3 margin.
The chambers have until July 31 to work out their differences.
A spokesman for Rodrigues said the House's senior member of the conference committee did not expect any announcements to be made Thursday as the process to try and reach a deal was just starting.
The most notable difference 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 not.
Parisella has supported collegiate betting being included, believing that barring college would just send Massachusetts gamblers into neighboring states to wager on college sports, including Boston College and other in-state schools.
Other significant differences that need to be resolved include the Senate bill proposing tax rates of 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., including a prohibition on any sportsbook advertising during live 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, making Massachusetts the first state in the U.S. to take such an approach.
In addition, implementing regulations would have to prohibit “any form of advertising, marketing or branding that is determined by the [Massachusetts Gaming] Commission to disrupt the ability of a viewer, at a sporting event or remotely, to watch, listen to or otherwise experience a sporting event,” along with any advertised inducements that might escalate risks of problem gambling.
Officials from the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association (MBA) met last month with two of the conferees, Parisella and O’Connor, to express their concerns about the Senate’s restrictions on advertising.
“We hope the final version of the bill will support the local news, weather, and entertainment we provide by nixing harmful ad provisions,” the MBA wrote on Twitter.