A six-member conference committee appointed last week has a difficult task ahead of it in bridging the gap between two dramatically different sports-betting bills approved in Massachusetts to find a solution both the House and Senate can agree on.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives chose their three delegates to the conference committee that will attempt to iron out the differences between House Bill 3993, which the House passed last July, and Senate Bill 2844, an amended version of the House bill which the Senate approved in April.
The Senate side includes Democratic Senators Eric Lesser and Michael Rodrigues, as well as Republican Patrick O’Connor.
Lesser chairs the Massachusetts legislature's Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and has been one of the key figures in sports-betting policy conversations in the state in the past several years, previously introducing his own bill bearing some similarities to the measure as passed by the full Senate.
Rodrigues chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which crafted the most recent version of the bill that was approved by senators.
During debate on the Senate floor, Rodrigues backed the Senate bill’s 35 percent tax rate on mobile wagering and 20 percent for retail, a much higher rate than the House’s proposed 15 percent on mobile and 12 percent on retail, citing neighbouring states such as New Hampshire and Rhode Island, as well as New York and Pennsylvania, as evidence that the tax rate would be viable.
“Given these examples, I find it hard to believe that a tax rate that is lower to Pennsylvania’s and New York’s and lower than three out of our five neighbouring states would make Massachusetts uncompetitive,” Rodrigues said.
O’Connor, on the other hand, proposed several unsuccessful amendments that would have reversed two of the most notable provisions of the Senate bill, namely a proposed ban on all collegiate sports betting and a whistle-to-whistle television advertising ban that would begin five minutes before any live televised sporting event and conclude five minutes afterwards.
The House sent Democratic Representatives Jerald Parisella and Aaron Michlewitz and Republican David Muradian as its delegates to the conference committee.
Parisella co-chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies along with Lesser and played a crucial role in crafting the version of the bill that the House ultimately passed last July. Similar to Rodrigues in the Senate, Michlewitz chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which sponsored the final bill.
Parisella has publicly backed collegiate betting being included, arguing during a panel discussion last October that barring college sports would just force Massachusetts players into neighbouring states to bet on colleges, including the local schools.
All six of the delegates voted in favour of their chamber’s respective bills.
In addition to his positions on the collegiate betting and whistle-to-whistle ban, O’Connor was one of four senators to vote in favour of a proposed amendment that would have lowered the tax rates to figures even lower than the House bill, imposing a 12.5 percent tax on mobile betting and a 10 percent tax on retail betting.
Massachusetts’s legislative session is scheduled to end on July 31, giving the committee just over two months to reach a solution on all the issues before them.
Other significant differences that need to be resolved include how many licenses would be available for operators, how many online skins would be available for casinos, as well as a provision only found in the House bill that would grant Massachusetts stadium and arena operators a 1 percent share of revenue derived from any wagers on sporting events held in those facilities.