BOSTON (State House News Service) — At least 60 percent of state senators support legalizing sports wagering in Massachusetts, a move favored by the House and Gov. Charlie Baker, according to a News Service survey of the Senate conducted this week.
A House-approved sports betting bill remains lodged in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, where it's sat since last summer. In the survey, not a single senator said they are outright opposed to legalization.
The House voted 156-3 last July to authorize sports betting. The bill (H 3993) is a priority of Speaker Ron Mariano's, who said this month that he's frustrated by the Senate's "stubborn reluctance to take the bill up."
Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that there's no getting around legal sports wagering. Referencing a bill he filed around four years ago based on New Jersey's framework, Baker said that "whether it's that, or some other version, I think at this point this is a fact of life."
"And for people in Massachusetts - literally many do - to just drive over the border, to be able to participate in something that is another form of entertainment, I think is unfortunate," Baker said.
Talking in January about her legislative priorities, Senate President Karen Spilka, who did not respond to the survey, was noncommittal on sports betting.
"You know, some want to do it, some are uncertain they want to do it," the president said. "But we will be taking a look at it with the senators."
Responding to Mariano's comments this month, the Ashland Democrat said she wants to see "some sort of consensus" among senators before moving forward.
While there is majority support in the Senate for the concept of sports betting, senators seem to be struggling with details, which could be worked out behind the scenes or through floor debate and amendments.
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Senate President Pro Tempore Will Brownsberger said in his response to the survey that there are "unresolved questions about the scope of activities that should be eligible for sports betting, how to set it up, how to regulate it, and how to share the revenue it generates."
The House bill arrived in Senate Ways and Means last July, within a week of another legalization proposal sponsored by Sen. Eric Lesser (S 269), which was approved by the Economic Development Committee and also sent to Ways and Means.
For the past eight months, the Senate's path or stance on sports betting has been difficult to gauge because the talks have been almost entirely private. Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues said meetings with stakeholders are ongoing and his team is trying to "get our hands around all the competing proposals out there."
In an effort to once and for all see just how much support or opposition exists in the Senate for allowing people to bet on sports here, the News Service posed the question to all 40 senators.
SHNS identified support from 24 senators, or 60 percent of the chamber, for legalizing sports wagering, mainly from survey responses but in a few cases from a senator's cosponsorship of bills on that subject. Eight senators either replied that they were undecided, noncommittal, or did not want to comment. No members of the Senate answered in outright opposition to sports betting. Twelve senators did not provide any response or acknowledgement of the question.
"Do you support legalized sports betting in Massachusetts in any form? If yes, what form?"
Sen. Michael Brady (D-Brockton) - Chair, Public Service
Brady dialed the News Service almost immediately after the survey went out, and said: "I'm a strong supporter of sports betting. As you know, I filed legislation regarding sports betting in the budget and in other means. I think we're losing revenue...to other states around New England. A lot of people I know in my district, my constituents, want it. ... I know there was concerns about local colleges in Massachusetts. ... I'm willing to look at that. But I think it's long overdue. I think we missed the ball when Tom Brady, even though he played for Tampa Bay, when he went to the Super Bowl there."
"It's great we got the ARPA money, ... we're grateful for that, but that's only one-time inputs of money and we've got to look to the future," Brady added. "My constituents in the towns I represent including the City of Brockton are looking for more revenue."
The Brockton Democrat added that the sports betting industry would fuel "job creation" in Massachusetts.
Asked why he thought there had been no action on the bill in the Senate, Brady said, "I have talked to my colleagues in leadership and we're hoping to get something done soon. A lot of my Senate colleagues that I've spoken to are in favor of it."
Brady referenced the many meetings and conversations held behind the scenes to gain more information on different viewpoints on sports betting, before saying, "I think we've got enough information on it and we gotta get moving."
As to whether a majority of senators would vote for a sports wagering bill, Brady said: "Yeah I think there is a majority of senators that are supportive of it. But again I haven't spoken to every senator because our schedules are so crazy."
Brady sponsors S 254 relative to sports betting.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Lowell) - Chair, Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development
"Senator Kennedy is in support of legalized sports betting in the Commonwealth in all forms."
Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) - Chair, Economic Development and Emerging Technologies
"Yes, Senator Lesser does support sports betting. He filed a bill to legalize it and said bill was reported favorably from the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and referred to Senate Ways & Means."
Lesser sponsors S 269 to establish sports wagering in the commonwealth, which was sent to Ways and Means on July 21, 2021.
Sen. Mike Rush (D-Boston) - Senate Majority Whip
"Senator Rush does support sports betting ... 'Yes, in all forms.'"
Rush sponsors S 278 to regulate sports wagering.
Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) - Chair, Export Development
"I'm supportive. I represent border communities in the Merrimack Valley where folks are placing their sports bets in New Hampshire by taking a few short minutes to drive or walk across the border. This continues to result in a significant revenue loss for Massachusetts and gain for New Hampshire."
Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) - Assistant Minority Leader
"The sports betting bill has been in discussion in the Legislature for quite a while, and I am surprised that we have not gotten anything done with this legislation up to this point. With its passage, it could spur economic growth through jobs and new tax revenue for the state. That tax revenue could be used to improve funding for education or public safety initiatives, only further proving the potential benefits of this legislation. In a state where the largest online sports betting company got its start, it doesn't make sense to continue to delay this bill and miss out on all the opportunities that legalized sports betting could bring to the Commonwealth. As our economy grows and evolves, legalizing sports betting makes sense as part of that evolution."
Sen. Pat O'Connor (R-Weymouth) - Assistant Minority Leader; Ranking Minority Member, Ways & Means and Economic Development
"Legalizing sports betting would be a tremendous revenue-producer for Massachusetts, and it would end the outsourcing of this operation to illegal markets and other states. I strongly feel that we are getting closer to passing legislation to legalize sports betting and I am going to keep pushing for it until it's done."
Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield) - Chair, Veterans and Federal Affairs
"I do support legalized sports betting. With respect to form, I believe that many of the bills pending in the Senate are very good pieces of legislation."
Velis cosponsors S 264 authorizing and regulating sports wagering.
Sen. Adam Gomez (D-Springfield) - Chair, Children, Families and Persons With Disabilities
"As a sponsor of one of the many sports wagering bills, "An Act authorizing and regulating sports wagering," I am in strong support of this legislation crossing the finish line this session. My bill, S.264, is unique in that it provides our local bars and restaurants the opportunity to offer sports wagering and retain the patrons they may lose to casinos. The Gaming Commission would decide which retailers would be approved, and municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing sports wagers at retailers. Legalizing sports wagering, while also expanding the option to retailers, would also provide a substantial boost in revenue for both the state and for local businesses. My bill also includes explicit language for diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am hopeful that legislation can emerge from the legislature this session as it would mark a proper conclusion to the lengthy discussion on how Massachusetts can best facilitate it."
Gomez sponsors S 264 authorizing and regulating sports wagering, and cosponsors the House bill filed by fellow Springfield lawmaker, Rep. Orlando Ramos, H 531 authorizing and regulating sports wagering.
Sen. Adam Hinds (D-Pittsfield) - Chair, Revenue
"Senator Hinds supports online and in-person sports betting in MA."
Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) - Dean of the Senate; Chair, State Administration and Regulatory Oversight
"I support legalized sports betting in the Commonwealth because it would give Massachusetts residents the ability to enjoy an entertaining activity, create new opportunities for our statewide economy, and provide valuable resources to support critical state initiatives and programs. With sports wagering already established in neighboring states, I am concerned that we are missing an important opportunity to engage participants, create new jobs, and properly administer an activity residents are already enjoying in New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Implementing our own statewide framework would ultimately help better ensure responsible sports wagering in the Commonwealth and I hope we in the legislature act soon to prevent further delay."
Pacheco cosponsors S 254 relative to sports betting.
Sen. Paul Feeney (D-Foxborough) - Chair, Financial Services
"Senator Feeney is a supporter of legislation that would allow and regulate "Sports Gaming" in the Commonwealth. The Senator filed S.263 this session that would allow for a number of sports gaming licenses to be granted, and has been a vocal advocate and leading voice on this issue in this session and the previous one. Senator Feeney continues to have conversations with his colleagues in the Senate and believes in a collaborative process that gets this right for the people of Massachusetts."
Feeney sponsors S 263 relative to sports wagering in the commonwealth, and cosponsors S 257 to regulate sports wagering.
Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) - Senate President Emerita
"I support the legalization of sports betting. Through legalization and subsequent regulation, the Commonwealth can better protect gamblers and can collect revenue that our public services are currently missing out on. I support Senator Lesser’s proposal for legalization."
Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont) - Senate President Pro Tempore
"I'm OK with sports betting in theory, but there are many unresolved questions about the scope of activities that should be eligible for sports betting, how to set it up, how to regulate it, and how to share the revenue it generates."
Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) - Senate Minority Leader
"I support it in concept. I think there are a lot of details that we need to work out. I've put many of them on the table, as you know, as amendments. I actually have an amendment pending in the current supp to ask the Gaming Commission to give us an estimate of how much money we are missing because we don't have it already. So it seems to me that reasonable minds can find a way to move forward. That isn't the issue here. The issue is agreeing that we need to move forward. And I hope we'll do it sooner than later," Tarr said Wednesday.
Tarr later withdrew the budget amendment he referenced without discussion.
Asked why the House bill hasn't moved since it reached Senate Ways & Means last summer, and whether he thinks anything is holding it up, Tarr responded: "Not that I'm aware of. I think it needs to find its place as a priority, and that's what's holding it up. And clearly, for many of us, it is a priority. And it's a priority because we're leaving $30-50 million a year on the table, maybe more. And we're being outpaced by other states, and we shouldn't miss those kind of opportunities. We've already made a decision years ago -- decades ago -- that we are going to sanction gaming in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Having made that decision, we need to be committed to doing it in the most prosperous way possible. We have to be careful, obviously, but -- again -- we can find ways to do that. We already have in several instances."
As to his sense of his 39 colleagues on the legalization question, Tarr said: "I think if we were to take a vote in the Senate, there would be a majority. But I don't know, beyond that, what you might see."
Tarr sponsors S 281 relative to gaming.
Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham) - Chair, Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture
"This has been a really important issue in various parts of my district, including -- I represent the town of Plainville, which has Plainridge Casino in it. So, sports betting -- I've received a lot of outreach from a lot of people in my district. You know, they think the details are still kind of being worked out, but overall yes, I support the premise."
Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) - Chair, Transportation
"I support it. Continuing to have a conversation with members," Sen. Crighton said Thursday on his way to the chamber.
Crighton sponsors S 257 to regulate sports wagering.
Sen. Nick Collins (D-Boston) - Chair, Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets
"I think the economic benefits of any expanded gaming should be what outweighs the negatives. So I think that is the key -- and where the resources go. Because we have issues all across the commonwealth, particularly around mental health, and it's important that we can find resources to support an ongoing investment that clearly is needed, beyond the post-pandemic resources we've received by the federal government. So as the debate wears on, that's going to be front and center on my mind," Collins said in a State House corridor. Then asked if he is open to legalization, Collins said, "Yes, sir."
Sen. Walter Timilty (D-Milton) - Chair, Public Safety and Homeland Security
"I do. I do, I do," was Sen. Timilty's quick response as he walked into the chamber for session.
Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) - Assistant Majority Leader
"I support the premise of sports betting, but details are important to me," Sen. DiDomenico said on his way into the chamber.
Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury) - Chair, Senate Post Audit and Oversight
Moore told the News Service he supports legalization, and elaborated: "I don't mind the version the House has put out, but conceptually I think, lookit -- either way, whether we do it or not, it's going on. So I think it's an issue that we have to address. The longer we don't address it -- the activity is going on, it's going on unregulated, it's going on where we have tax dollars that are going to other states. And it's just something I think that we have to sit with the industry, and whether it's the House bill, or develop other regulations, I just think we need to develop a regulatory framework. ... I do think it's something that we need to get done. ... I would've liked to have seen something on the floor last session."
Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem) - Chair, Rules
Lovely signed on March 31, 2021 as a cosponsor of Sen. Crighton's bill S 257 to regulate sports wagering. Her office did not respond to this survey.
Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) - Chair, Higher Education
Gobi on Feb. 25, 2021 signed her name onto Sen. Lesser's bill S 269 to establish sports wagering in the commonwealth. Her office did not respond to this survey.
Sen. Susan Moran (D-Falmouth) - Chair, Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure
Moran added her cosponsorship on March 15, 2021 to Sen. Lesser's bill S 269 to establish sports wagering in the commonwealth. Her office did not respond to this survey.
Sen. John Cronin (D-Lunenburg) - Chair, Municipalities and Regional Government
"The Senator has no comment regarding your question."
Cronin sponsors S 259 a resolve to commission a study of the state's gaming market.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) - Chair, Cannabis Policy; Chair, Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion
"I'm open to it and, as with all legislation, the specifics will matter. My top concerns will be around ensuring we're making our tax code more progressive, not regressive, and ensuring economic development opportunities serve communities most often left out."
Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro) - Assistant Majority Whip; Chair, Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery
"My views on sports betting continue to evolve. I am cognizant of the inherent risks that come with the furtherance of gambling. I am also honest about the realities of digital life in the 21st century. As of right now, I am waiting to see the details of a finalized bill."
Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) - Chair, Elder Affairs; Chair, Labor and Workforce Development
"At this point the senator has no comment on the issue."
Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy) - Chair, Housing; Chair, Senate Intergovernmental Affairs
"I'll wait to see the bill. I know other states have obviously done it nearby -- New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. So we certainly are sending some revenue from our citizens down to those communities. But I want to look at the bill before I make a final decision," Keenan said Wednesday on Bowdoin Street. "I voted against casino gambling. Not necessarily because I was opposed to gambling, but because I just didn't think, at the time, it was -- I thought we should focus on one or perhaps two casinos. And so, in this context, I kind of feel the same way. I want to really get a sense of what this is going to look like in terms of what it will include, the breadth of it, what kind of exceptions there may be. So I'm just going to hold on making a decision."
Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) - Chair, Judiciary
"Undecided," was Eldridge's answer Thursday as he entered the chamber, although in a March 21 Globe story his views were characterized as opposed to expanded gaming.
Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton) - Senate Majority Leader
"I don't know what the bill's going to look like," Creem said Thursday. " ... I don't know what I'm going to have before me. I can't say how I am on something I haven't seen before me."
Asked if she supports legalization as a broad concept, the majority leader said, "Well, I don't, I just, I have to see what I have before I can say."
Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport) - Chair, Ways and Means
Chairman Rodrigues' committee has held the House bill since July 2021. Asked about it on March 7, he pointed to behind-the-scenes meetings about sports wagering, which he said were ongoing as senators try to "get our hands around all the competing proposals out there."
"We are actively engaged in discussions and meetings with all the principals. It's very complicated. It's very broad. And we're processing it," Rodrigues said.
Asked for his personal position on legalization, Rodrigues initially replied, "We'll be ready when the time comes." Then asked if he outright supports it or is not keen on the idea, he said, "I'm fine with it."
He tried to walk back that comment March 11.
"As I said on Monday, the proposals before the committee are broad and touch on the complicated matter of legalizing a new form of gambling. My comment meant to convey that I was fine with how the process was proceeding, not that I was in favor of a particular bill as is, or the legalization of sports betting generally," Rodrigues wrote. "As I conveyed on Monday, I am actively meeting with stakeholders and members on the legislation in the committee and, as I have with all major legislation, I will work to listen to and incorporate Senators' feedback and release a bill if and when it is ready and there is support of the members.
The News Service reached out on March 18 and gave each office until March 23 to respond to this survey. Some senators also provided answers in-person on March 23 and 24.
No reply was received from 12 senators: Sens. Michael Barrett (D-Lexington), Joanne Comerford (D-Northampton), Lydia Edwards (D-Boston), Barry Finegold (D-Andover), Cynthia Friedman (D-Arlington), Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Joan Lovely (D-Salem), Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), Susan Moran (D-Falmouth), Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), or Karen Spilka (D-Ashland).
The News Service was able to include a few of those senators on the list of lawmakers supporting sports wagering due to their co-sponsorship of bills on that subject. Sen. Rodrigues' response is based on SHNS reporting from earlier this month.
Written by Sam Doran/SHNS