It looks like the Massachusetts Senate might finally approve Massachusetts sports betting, or at least that’s what Senate President Karen Spilka has us believing.
Spilka hasn’t explicitly expressed any opposition to sports betting, but back in October, she did state that she doesn’t see it as a priority for 2021.
Fast forward to 2022, and it seems that her position has changed.
On March 28, Spilka, accompanied by Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Ron Mariano, told reporters that “the intention is to bring [sports betting] to the floor and debate it on the floor and let the senators decide.”
Spilka Seeks A ‘Consensus’
Spilka said she’ll consider reintroducing sports betting talks after learning about a survey taken on by the State House News Service (SHNS) on March 25. The SHNS surveyed 40 Massachusetts state senators about their take on legalizing sports betting. The results showed that at least 24 Massachusetts senators (60%) want to legalize sports betting in the state.
Spilka hasn’t given any specifics on what counts as a “consensus,” so we should take this survey with a grain of salt. However, it is a promising sign that the majority of the Senate is in favor of sports betting. If there is a consensus that matches that of the survey by the time formal lawmaking rolls around, then Spilka will likely follow the consensus, and we should expect legal sports betting at some point this year.
Spilka Is Last And Toughest Domino To Fall
The overall consensus is that sports betting should be legal. The public, sports teams, casinos, and lawmakers — both in the House and the Senate — all support legal sports betting. Gov. Baker has said he wants to make sports gaming happen. The only obstacle has been Spilka.
The Massachusetts House approved sports betting in Bill H.3993 by an overwhelming 156-3 margin last July.
A similar bill (S.269) proposed by State Senator Eric Lesser also suggests legal sports betting in Massachusetts. Couple that with the SHNS survey, and you have major support from all sides, except Spilka.
Eight months have gone by since both bills were either approved or proposed, and not much progress has been made.
Spilka gave her honest explanation for the legislative stagnation, saying that she wasn’t sure if the Senate has the bandwidth to address sports betting on top of other pending issues.
She also cited disagreements on tax revenue, college sports betting, and licensing as potential reasons for inaction.
Time Is Money
Sports betting advocates are fairly pleased that the discussion has upgraded from a matter of “if” to a matter of “when.” Yet, they are still not fully satisfied as the state is missing out on potentially billion dollar revenue opportunities as the months pass by.
DraftKings, which ironically is based in Boston, recently reported that 28% of Super Bowl bettors in New Hampshire had a Massachusetts address. And it’s not just New Hampshire sportsbooks that are grabbing Massachusetts residents’ attention. Massachusetts is watching neighboring states Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island all benefit very well financially since joining in on the sports betting game.
New York launched in early January and brought in over $3 billion in bets within its first two months.
The Senate and House should be preoccupied for the next few months with budget season around the corner, putting sports betting passage (and consequently billions of dollars in revenue) at risk.
Ron Mariano sees how much money is not being exploited, and has been openly frustrated with the Senate, particularly Spilka, for its “stubborn reluctance to take the bill up.” He understands that there will need to be some negotiating with the Senate in order to reach passage, and he is ready to do so.
Photo courtesy of Associated Press/Michael Dwyer