The Massachusetts House on Thursday passed a sports betting legalization bill, backing wagers on collegiate sports, esports and fantasy contests.
Lawmakers spent six hours reviewing 28 amendments before approving the bill, 156 to 3.
A Boston legislator’s efforts to offer professional sports teams a shot at sports betting licenses didn’t get a vote. Instead, lawmakers passed an updated version of Rep. Jay Livingstone’s amendment to study on whether the teams should be able to apply for licenses.
The House unanimously adopted an amendment by Rep. Orlando Ramos to add diversity, equity and inclusion requirements to a feasibility study measuring whether restaurants and other retailers should get sports betting kiosks. Among other things, the study would require a review of public health and economic impact the kiosks would have on minority-owned businesses.
While the bill does not meet Western Mass restaurant owners’ demands for access to sports betting licenses, Ramos said the language bolsters the mandates behind the study.
“Allowing for casinos and existing online gaming apps to monopolize yet another multi-billion dollar industry will only further widen the income gap,” the Springfield Democrat said on the House floor Thursday, “because I’m certain there are no Black- and brown-owned casinos in Massachusetts and, to my knowledge, there are no major Black and brown-owned sports apps.”
Ramos withdrew a second proposal to add DEI requirements to the licensing requirements for sports betting applicants.
Legislators also approved an amendment by Rep. Tackey Chan, a Quincy Democrat, to require that certain grants funded by sports betting revenue go to adult literacy and English language learning programs to increase access to the state’s workforce. Chan’s amendment also allows grants for skills training and adult literacy to benefit immigrants, refugees and people of color, among other groups.
An amendment from Rep. Daniel Hunt clarified that no mobile operator with a Category 3 license would have to partner with a casino or race track to get the green light to take bets in Massachusetts.
The House bill would allow the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to issue at least 11 sports betting licenses, split up among casinos, race tracks and independent mobile operators. But the state isn’t limiting the number of licenses for mobile operators, meaning several more could enter the state’s legal market.
Each operator would have to pay a license fee of $5 million every five years. That alone could generate some $70 million for the state, said Rep. Jerald Parisella. Mobile operators would have to be $1 million annually public health responses to compulsive gambling disorder. (Casinos and race tracks already face those fees under the state’s current gaming law.)
The state could get another $60 million to $70 million in tax revenue, Parisella said. Casinos and race tracks would face a 12.5% tax on gross receipts, while mobile operators would pay a 15% tax. That’s separate from the 1% facility fee the commission would collect and distribute to stadiums and other venues hosting games that generate wagers.
Under the bill, people aged 21 or older could place various types of bets on professional sports games, horse racing, fantasy sports contests and collegiate sports, except for proposition bets related to an individual athlete’s performance.
The bill also allows bets on esports, a rapidly growing industry.
Activate, a tech and media consulting firm, projected in 2017 that esports would have the second highest viewership in the U.S., next to the NFL. In its 2021 outlook, Activate predicts esports revenue will grow to $5.1 billion between consumer spending and sponsorships.
The esports industry has the second highest viewership in the U.S. this year, Rep. Andy Vargas said during Thursday’s debate, citing figures from the data analysis company Statistica.
“As someone who grew up playing games like NBA2K and Call of Duty, I never imagined saying those words on the House floor,” the Haverhill Democrat said. “I know the e-sports industry will continue to grow exponentially.”
The sports betting bill moved quickly in the House after it was approved by the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, one of two bills that advanced out of more than a dozen that were filed. The other bill is a proposal from Sen. Eric Lesser, co-chair of the committee, which doesn’t include collegiate sports betting.
Sports betting fell through the cracks last session as the COVID-19 pandemic caused record unemployment in Massachusetts. House lawmakers tried to pack a legalization proposal through an economic development package, but the Senate rejected the measure, calling for a standalone sports betting bill later on.
“One thing I always thought was Massachusetts [lawmakers] are very thoughtful in getting through this process. That said, at some point they’ve got to move,” said Brendan Bussmann, a partner and director of government affairs at Global Market Advisors. “Is it going to be the fall? I hope so because there’s a lot of opportunity for sports betting.”