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Sports betting is back on the table in the Mass. Legislature

The proposed measure would generate an estimated $50 million in annual tax revenue.

A gambler placed a bet in Atlantic City, N.J., early this year. A key House committee on Friday unveiled a measure that would legalize sports betting in Massachusetts, both in person and online.
A gambler placed a bet in Atlantic City, N.J., early this year. A key House committee on Friday unveiled a measure that would legalize sports betting in Massachusetts, both in person and online.Wayne Parry/Associated Press

State lawmakers are making a renewed effort to pass a bill authorizing sports betting in Massachusetts in the waning, hectic days of the legislative session.

A key House committee on Friday unveiled a measure that would legalize such wagering in person and online. Authorized bookmakers would include the state’s three casinos, established daily fantasy sports operators such as DraftKings, and horse racing tracks, which would not be able to take remote wagers.

The proposal is part of a wide-ranging economic development bill that lawmakers would have to pass before July 31, unless they vote to extend their formal session.

Though the contours — and the prospects — of the proposal could change dramatically in coming days, the action in the House is the first public movement in months on what had been a hot issue before the emergence of COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis.

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“This is something that we think can provide funding to some of the issues that we’re confronted with, even involving COVID,” said state Representative Aaron Michlewitz, a Boston Democrat who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The measure is expected to generate $50 million in annual revenue, of which significant portions would initially go to relief for hard-hit restaurants and to support jobs and education for low-income and vulnerable young people.

The state Senate has not yet begun to advance its own version of the measure, and lawmakers in that chamber have been more circumspect about sports betting. Senators on a joint panel that has been studying the topic declined to sign onto an earlier proposal endorsed by their House colleagues. Governor Charlie Baker previously proposed a different sports betting bill.

State Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a Gloucester Democrat who is House chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said in a statement that the measure would “bring sports betting into the light and out of the illegal market, to support the Massachusetts innovative gaming community and to protect the investments the Commonwealth has made in our gaming sector.”

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The bill would place a 15 percent tax on operators’ income from sports betting.

A representative for Senate President Karen E. Spilka said her chamber was eager to see the House proposal. Her office did not say whether she’d support the plan.

If a sports betting bill were to pass before the end of the session, Massachusetts could conceivably have a sports betting program up and running during the early part of the upcoming NFL season, if it begins a regular schedule. Operators would have to be licensed by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The state would join more than a dozen others that already have sports betting programs as part of a national expansion following a 2018 US Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for more states to legalize the practice. New Hampshire and Rhode Island are among the states that have legal sports betting.

Bets on college sports would be allowed under the House proposal, but gamblers would not be able to put money on the performance of individual athletes, nor could they bet once a game had begun.

The measure also contains some provisions that have been sought by the sports industry.

It would require sports books to buy official data from US leagues to resolve wagers other than advance bets on the outcome of a game. The proposal would also put an additional 1 percent fee on revenue from bets on games played in Massachusetts. Proceeds would go to sports venues to protect against corruption or security issues having to do with gambling.

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The state’s gambling and sports industries have not always been in alignment on betting, but they have recently sought action to help boost their businesses after months of shutdowns and canceled games.

In a joint statement, the management of DraftKings, its competitor FanDuel, MGM Springfield casino, and the Boston Red Sox described the proposal as “comprehensive, consumer-focused sports betting legislation.”

Brian Gullbrants, president of Encore Boston Harbor casino, said in a recent interview that online gaming could help soften the blow if casinos are forced to close their doors again.

“This would only enhance our business, and if there was another shutdown — let’s pray it doesn’t happen — we would love to have the opportunity to stay connected to our people and have the ability to generate some revenue,” he said.

The House economic development bill includes $372 million in bond authorizations for state programs that help businesses and stimulate the economy. It also includes other policy changes, most notably Baker’s Housing Choice legislation to lower the requirement at the local level for a range of land-use approvals, from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority.



Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.