Massachusetts House Speaker Rips Senate President On Sports Betting Resistance

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The Massachusetts House of Representatives wants to legalize sports betting in the Commonwealth, as does Governor Charlie Baker.

So who stands in the way of this gambling expansion becoming law?

According to one of the highest-ranking members of the legislature, Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) is the roadblock.

House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) isn’t happy about it.

Mariano ripped Spilka for what he sees as an unwillingness to negotiate on the matter in an interview with Bloomberg Baystate Business on Wednesday, March 2.

“It’s extremely frustrating, the amount of money we’re leaving on the table by just this stubborn reluctance to take the bill up,” Mariano said. “We have, I think, a good bill. Obviously, I’m willing to negotiate. But it takes two people to negotiate.”

The bill (H.3993) to legalize sports betting passed 156-3 in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in July 2021; the three votes against it came from Democrats. There weren’t any social conservatives in the legislature who opposed the idea.

But many social conservatives do oppose legalized gambling. And while Spilka doesn’t find much common ground with social conservatives, gambling is one issue she does.

Spilka has repeatedly voiced hesitation about legalizing sports betting. In January, she reiterated that there are progressive Democrats that don’t like gambling as well. That said, she thinks passing the bill in the Massachusetts Senate wouldn’t be as easy — even if she brought it up for a vote. 

“I haven’t been shy about the fact that I’m not a big fan of gambling in general,” Spilka told State House News Service in January. “I voted no on the casino bills a few years back, but I understand that it’s popular among a lot of Massachusetts residents, which is why we are taking it seriously and listening to senators. There are senators that want it very much and senators that do not want it very much, so we are trying to figure out what we have consensus on and then to possibly move forward at that time.”

Additionally, Spilka, who decides which bills come up for votes in the Massachusetts Senate, previously said that legalizing sports betting is not a priority for her.

Last September she noted that she had other, more pressing work than trying to legalize sports betting.

“We have to do redistricting, we have to close out the books and do a supp budget, we need to do a more permanent VOTES act, our temporary [provisions] end in December,” Spilka told reporters at the time. “Some of it will depend upon bandwidth and how it stands.”

Proponents of gambling expansion argue that it will be an economic boon. They say that it will create jobs and tax revenue for the state. They also argue that people already find ways to bet, including crossing state lines.

Opponents point to the social cost of gambling. They argue that it will make people poorer because gambling exists to take people’s money — not to make them wealthier. They also worry that it will result in more people becoming addicted to gambling.

Spilka could not be reached for comment on Friday.


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