The six lawmakers tasked with reconciling two very different approaches to legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts got down to work Thursday afternoon and there is no shortage of people who want to share their thoughts on what the conference committee should focus on.

Reps. Jerald Parisella, Aaron Michlewitz and David Muradian and Sens. Michael Rodrigues and Eric Lesser huddled in a hybrid format Thursday (Rodrigues and Parisella were together at the State House while others participated remotely) to begin hashing out the numerous discrepancies between the two branches’ betting bills (H 3993 and S 2862) with the goal of producing a compromise version that could pass the House and Senate before a July 31 deadline. Sen. Patrick O’Connor, who rounds out the conference committee, was not visible on the livestream during the roughly two minutes that the meeting was open to the public and press before the lawmakers voted to move the talks behind closed doors.

“We probably hear more about sports betting from our constituents than just about anything else, so I’m looking forward to working with you, your Senate colleagues and my House colleagues to come to a compromise,” Parisella said after Rodrigues opened the meeting.

The conference committee, which was formed May 19 but had not begun its work until Thursday, has a few significant issues to resolve. The House sports betting bill would allow wagers on college sports, but the Senate’s would not. The Senate bill has rigid restrictions on sports betting advertising, marketing and the use of credit cards that the House bill did not include. And the branches opted for vastly different tax rates — revenue from in-person bets would be subject to a tax of 20 percent in the Senate bill and 12.5 percent in the House bill, while money brought in from online or mobile bets would be taxed at 35 percent under the Senate framework and 15 percent under the House plan.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 gave states the ability to legalize sports wagering, 35 states — including neighboring Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York — and the District of Columbia have authorized sports betting, according to the American Gaming Association. Thirty states and D.C. have begun to accept bets. Meanwhile, Bay Staters continue to place bets by traveling over state lines or by using an illegal bookie or offshore betting website.

Since the Boston Celtics began their playoff run April 17 against the Brooklyn Nets, people in Massachusetts have been searching for the offshore sports book Bovada more than they have been searching for Boston-based DraftKings, which offers legal betting in nearby New Hampshire and Connecticut, a Google Trends analysis shows.

On the Google Trends 0-100 scale of popularity for search terms, “Bovada” has averaged a score of 49 during the Celtics’ run to Banner 18 while “DraftKings” has averaged a score of 45 during the same time period. The peak day for “DraftKings” searches came May 18, the day after the Miami Heat took a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. The peak day for searches of “Bovada” came on May 29, the day of the same series’ final game.

“Today, sports betting is actively occurring in the Commonwealth through illegal and unregulated channels and on sites that already have a firm grip on consumers. These illegal operators provide little in the way of consumer protections, have a deleterious impact on the Commonwealth’s legal gaming industry, and deprive Massachusetts of substantial tax revenues,” the iDevelopment and Economic Association (iDEA Growth) wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to each of the six conferees. “Massachusetts’ legislation should be considered in the context of competing with the illegal offshore market. Successful regulation will help migrate customers away from the illegal market and provide them with an industry that is accountable to Massachusetts regulators, and to consumers.”

The national organization of 33 businesses including DraftKings and FanDuel said it “firmly believe[s] that a compromise is achievable in all areas” of disagreement between the two branches and more often than not encouraged lawmakers to stick with the House’s approach to the issues.

Daniel Wallach, the co-founder of the University of New Hampshire School of Law’s Sports Wagering and Integrity Program, published an op-ed Wednesday in which he and co-author John Nucci laid out how “the approaches taken in other states to resolve similar policy disagreements offer workable solutions to the conference committee members as they seek to resolve their differences.”

On the collegiate betting issue, Wallach and Nucci suggested that the Massachusetts conference committee settles on a “compromise that has been struck in nearly every state which has sought to impose restrictions on collegiate sports betting” by allowing bets on college contests only if they do not involve in-state colleges or collegiate games played within Massachusetts’ borders.

“There is no need for an outright ban. It wouldn’t stop the betting anyway — it would just send Massachusetts residents to any number of bordering states (such as Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island) that allow wagering on Massachusetts colleges, or, worse, to offshore websites which lack any modicum of consumer protections,” they wrote in Forbes. “Further, it would prevent any in-state monitoring of such bets, leaving regulators (and the colleges and universities themselves) completely in the dark about wagers made on those games and unable to detect suspicious wagers.”

As far as the number of mobile sports betting licenses goes — the House bill would allow an unlimited number of mobile sports betting licenses while the Senate bill would allow for just nine mobile licenses, one for each of the state’s three casinos (one is a slots parlor) with the rest awarded through a competitive bidding process — Wallach and Nucci say that between 16 and 20 online licenses would be more in line with other similarly-sized states.

They also recommend that the conference committee studies how other states have addressed many of the same issues, like advertising restrictions, tax rates and more.

“In short, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are solutions to each individual issue that have been tried and tested in other jurisdictions,” Wallach and Nucci wrote.

Officials from the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association met late last month with two of the conferees, Parisella and O’Connor, to voice the organization’s concerns with the Senate’s sports betting bill and particularly with the Senate’s rigid restrictions on sports betting advertising.

“We hope the the final version of the bill will support the local news, weather, and entertainment we provide by nixing harmful ad provisions,” Mass. Broadcasters Association, many members of which rely on advertising revenue, tweeted.

(Copyright (c) 2022 State House News Service.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox