Massachusetts Sports Betting’s Chance at Passage Is Looking Up

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The Massachusetts Senate may take up sports betting this year after all. 

Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, told reporters during a Monday press huddle with Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Ron Mariano that “the intention is to bring it to the floor and debate it on the floor and let the senators decide” once there’s a Senate consensus on the issue. 

The development was reported by the State House News Service (SHNS) via its online newsletter MASSterList today. 

Monday’s statement signals an unexpected sense of urgency from Spilka, who many consider the primary obstacle to Senate passage of sports betting legislation in Massachusetts.  

Both a House proposal (H. 3993) passed by the lower chamber last July and a rival Senate bill (S.269) sponsored by 2022 Massachusetts Lt. Governor candidate and Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, have sat in the Senate Ways and Means committee for the past eight months with no hearing in sight.

When asked about the hold-up in 2021, Spilka said she wasn’t sure the Senate “has the bandwidth” to take the issue up in the current legislative session. 

The session, now in its second year, is scheduled to end on July 31. 

Sports Betting Now Has Majority Support In Massachusetts Senate

Spilka’s comment on Monday appears to stem from the results of a SHNS survey released last week showing a majority of Massachusetts state senators support legal sports betting in the commonwealth. 

Based on the survey, at least 24 Massachusetts senators – or 60 percent – want to legalize sports wagering in their state reported by the SHNS on March 25. 

It’s uncertain if the survey meets the definition of a “consensus” on sports betting that Spilka says she wants. But once she is satisfied there is a consensus, sports betting legislation should move in committee at least. 

“It honestly doesn’t matter where I stand if we’re able to reach a consensus,” Spilka told reporters Monday. according to MASSterList. 

The Ball Is Now In The Senate’s Court

The Massachusetts House voted to legalize sports betting last year by a 156-3 margin. That’s a huge show of legislative support, but nothing can happen without a Senate vote.

Mariano reminded reporters of that fact in a March 2 Baystate Business interview.

“It’s extremely frustrating at the amount of money we’re leaving on the table by just this stubborn reluctance to take the bill up,” said the House Speaker. “It takes two people to negotiate,” he added in an apparent nod to Spilka. 

Massachusetts is losing potential billions in sports betting revenue to neighboring states the longer the Senate puts off the issue. New York has become a leader in mobile sports betting since operations launched Jan. 8, with over $1 billion in handle received within the first few weeks. Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire are also reporting good numbers. 

Mariano told Baystate Business he is ready and willing to work with the Senate to get Massachusetts in the game. 

“Obviously, I’m willing to negotiate,” Mariano said

About the Author

Rebecca Hanchett

Writer and Contributor
Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, she has been known to watch UK basketball from time to time.

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