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Massachusetts sports betting bill moves towards passage in state House of Representatives

A man walked by as betting odds for the Super Bowl were displayed on monitors at a casino sports book in Las Vegas. The Massachusetts House is considering a bill Thursday to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts.
A man walked by as betting odds for the Super Bowl were displayed on monitors at a casino sports book in Las Vegas. The Massachusetts House is considering a bill Thursday to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts.John Locher/Associated Press

The state House of Representatives looks poised to pass a bill Thursday that would legalize sports betting in the state and, as currently written, would allow people 21 and older to place bets on professional and collegiate athletic events, motor races, and other contests.

Should the bill pass as expected, it would turn attention to the state Senate, which has been less enthusiastic about legalizing sports betting in the past.

Representatives are set to debate 28 amendments to the bill Thursday. Proponents of the measure said Massachusetts should join neighboring states such as New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and New York in allowing legal bets on sports.

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“I think the time has come,” said state Representative Jerald A. Parisella, a Beverly Democrat who co-chairs the joint legislative committee that considered upwards of 20 sports betting proposals that were submitted by lawmakers this session. “Sports betting is a reality” elsewhere, he said, including in most of Massachusetts’ neighboring states.

“It makes sense to legalize it, regulate it, and get the tax revenue,” he said, adding that he believes the proposal would bring Massachusetts upwards of $60-70 million in annual revenue.

Proponents of legalizing sports betting argue that doing so would allow Massachusetts to regulate the industry and keep potential bettors from going elsewhere or gambling illegally — while the state would reap the fiscal rewards of gambling taxes. The House bill includes several consumer protection measures, including bans on deceptive advertising and marketing towards people who are under 21.

But longtime opponents say that those provisions will have little effect. Les Bernal, the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, says the “torrent of gambling advertising” that the legalization of sports betting would unleash will create “an epidemic of child gambling.” He added that sports betting will adversely affect minority and low-income communities.

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Since the Supreme Court paved the way for states to legalize sports betting in 2018, lawmakers have been weighing various proposals to do so in Massachusetts. The House passed a provision last July that would have legalized sports betting, folding it into an economic development package.

But the betting proposal died in the Senate, which didn’t support including the measure in the economic development bill. It’s unclear if the upper chamber will move to take up sports betting this session. Senate President Karen E. Spilka’s office did not respond to inquiries about the issue on Wednesday.

A Senate bill that also advanced out of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies differs from the proposal the House is set to consider Thursday in several ways. Unlike the House bill, it would not allow betting on college sports or wagers to be placed with credit cards.

Governor Charlie Baker also filed a sports betting bill that would bar betting on college events. A Baker spokesperson wrote that he “will carefully review any legislation that reaches his desk.”

“I think it’s time for Massachusetts to legalize sports betting,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat who introduced that Senate bill. “I think it’s possible, given what we’ve learned over the last several years, to do it in a perfectly safe way that allows people to have fun and engage with their favorite teams, but also protects consumers.”

Under the proposal being taken up by the House, sports wagering license holders would be taxed at 12.5 percent for in-person bets and, separately, 15 percent for mobile wagers on platforms such as DraftKings, the Boston-based daily fantasy sports site and athletics betting operator.

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The state would be able to collect an estimated $70-80 million in initial licensing fees if the House proposal were to pass, according to Parisella. Under the House bill, sports betting operators would have to pay a $100,000 application fee in addition to a $5 million licensing fee to obtain a sports betting license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which would regulate sports betting.

The state’s three casinos — Encore Boston Harbor, Plainridge Park Casino, and MGM Springfield — support the effort to legalize sports betting. Encore Boston Harbor and Plainridge Park released a joint statement urging lawmakers to get a bill “across the finish line as soon as possible.” Chris Kelley, the president of MGM Resorts’ Northeast Group, said in a statement that he applauds the House’s efforts.

More than a dozen different House lawmakers have introduced amendments that are set to be debated Thursday. Representative Jay D. Livingstone said a provision he put forward would allow professional sports teams to conduct wagering at their respective venues via a third party. He said it is supported by “all of the professional sports teams in Massachusetts.” (John W. Henry is the principal owner of the Red Sox and also owns the Globe.)

Multiple amendments were introduced that would bar bettors from using credit cards. A provision introduced by Representative Bradford Hill would allow people betting on digital platforms to be 18 or older, as opposed to 21.

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Gambling in Massachusetts was made legal by state lawmakers in 2011, when the Legislature passed a bill paving the way for casinos to be built in the state. The law then got put directly to voters in 2014, when a referendum to repeal the 2011 measure failed at the ballot.

Subsequently, in 2018, the US Supreme Court paved the way for states to legalize sports betting, striking down a 1992 federal law that banned it in most states. Since then, more than 30 states have passed laws legalizing the industry, according to ESPN, including New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.


Jasper Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@globe.com.