The summer of 2021 was promising for the state of Massachusetts, since there was considerable momentum toward legalizing and regulate sports betting in the state. In early July, however, the House voted against a bill that would have legalized sports betting. It was eventually passed in the fall, but the Senate is still holding out. There are signs that the upcoming legislative session may be gridlocked.
If the Massachusetts legislature does not pass a sports betting bill by the end of the 2021 calendar year, Massachusetts residents will once again be prohibited from betting on sports using informal means that do not conform to the laws of the land. This means that the sports betting ban in Massachusetts is going to remain in place. The sports leagues in Massachusetts are already encouraging the State of Massachusetts to once again become a leader in sports betting regulation and enforcement. “I am disappointed that the House did not pass a real sports betting bill this year,” said Patrick Donahoe, Executive Vice-President of the Massachusetts Sports League. “The MBL believes strongly that House members understand the importance of sports betting to the Massachusetts economy, and the benefits to law enforcement and the gaming industry of legalized sports betting.”
Why did the House fail to pass a sports betting bill? Since the Massachusetts Constitution already requires voter approval for any law altering existing laws, including a sports betting bill, the House voted against renewing the law. According to the Massachusetts Constitution, a law must be enacted by the qualified voters of the State through an initiative petition. Massachusetts was one of the last states to enact such a law. That means that if no petition is filed with the secretary of state, then the legislature can decide whether or not to make a law change without voter approval. That means that in this case, the legislature has chosen to forego the popular vote in favor of a renewal fee on the statewide gambling casinos.
But why did the legislature fail to pass the bill? Most likely, there were multiple reasons. Perhaps some legislators just didn’t want to get involved in a lengthy litigation process with the Massachusetts Casinos. Perhaps other lawmakers were intimidated by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and its lobbyists. Perhaps some legislature members just didn’t want to see the huge benefit that would accrue from sports betting legalization in Massachusetts.
If you’re a Massachusetts resident who wishes to place bets at any casino, sportsbook, or online sports betting site, there are some fundamental differences between placing bets at the traditional brick and mortar locations versus placing bets at online sports betting sites. One important difference is the service charge, you’ll be required to pay the sportsbooks for their services. Placing bets at an online sportsbook will allow you to avoid paying the commission charged by the traditional brick and mortar institutions. And you’ll be able to take your bet to whichever casino you choose.
Another difference between the Massachusetts bill and the congressional version of the same bill is the implementation of the “law of sports betting” provision. Many lawmakers feel that the U.S. House of Representatives is more interested in the “legal sports betting” part of the bill than the “commerce and commerce” aspect of the legislation. The House has voted on and passed bills related to online gambling several times without including the sports betting provision. House leadership realizes that many voters will be upset at the inclusion of the sports betting provision in this particular bill, but they hope to appease their colleagues and pass the bill as is. Whether this will happen or not is anyone’s guess.
One other difference between the Massachusetts law and the congressional bill is that the Massachusetts legislature felt that Congress was not taking into consideration the interests of the legitimate online gaming establishments in Massachusetts. They specifically cited the highly successful casinos in Nevada and New Jersey as being exempt from the sports betting provision of the congressional bill. The U.S. House, however, included the sports betting provision in all of its state laws because the House felt that this was a legitimate concern for states like Massachusetts. The House was willing to include the sports betting provision in all state laws because it wanted to encourage the growth of online gambling in Massachusetts. Many gamers believe that if the House had included the provision in its version of the Massachusetts law, the entire Massachusetts gaming community would have been shut down.
In short, both the House and Senate versions of the bill are likely going to have a significant impact on the future of legal sports betting throughout the United States. One could only make a guess as to which of the two versions will be enacted into law. Some analysts feel that the outcome will be the same in either case. The key issue that will come from all of this is just how the U.S. House and Senate play out the differences between their respective versions of the bill. If both versions of the bill become law, the likelihood is that the final result will be a highly harmonious relationship between the federal government and the states that regulate casino gaming in the United States.