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Spilka eyes vague 'consensus' on sports betting in Mass.

"It honestly doesn't matter where I stand," Senate President Karen Spilka said about sports betting at a Monday press availability. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
"It honestly doesn't matter where I stand," Senate President Karen Spilka said about sports betting at a Monday press availability. (Sam Doran/SHNS)

Most senators are now on record in support of legalizing sports betting in some form, but Senate President Karen Spilka on Monday would not commit to advancing a bill until she was certain of a "consensus."

The News Service surveyed all 40 Massachusetts senators and last week reported that 24 senators, representing 60% of the chamber, either said they favor sports wagering or cosponsored bills seeking to do so. Several said they back the idea but stressed that they continue to struggle with specific details.

Asked Monday if she had any plans to push for a vote on the House-approved bill, Spilka said "we're working towards a consensus to bring the bill to the floor."

"I'm hoping to be able to do that, but as was noted, many, many of the senators, basically, to paraphrase them, said that the devil's in the details," Spilka said. "Once we have consensus, the intent is to do that very task."

Spilka, who was among the 12 senators who did not reply to the News Service's survey, declined Monday to share her personal opinion on the topic.

"It honestly doesn't matter where I stand," Spilka said about sports betting. "If we're able to reach a consensus, the intention is to bring it to the floor and debate it on the floor and let the senators decide."

Asked if 60% of senators in favor of legalizing sports betting did not represent a sufficient consensus, Spilka replied, "Again, the devil's in the details, and I believe that many of the details — we're trying to see if we could have a consensus and debate certainly a lot of it on the floor, but to try to have consensus."

The House has approved language seeking to legalize sports betting in two straight sessions, but the topic has yet to emerge for debate in the Senate, where differences can be settled through amendments. Earlier this month, Speaker Ron Mariano said he is frustrated by the Senate's "stubborn reluctance to take the bill up."

Some senators have previously flagged problem gambling and the role of college athletics as pressure points.

Gov. Charlie Baker also supports the change, which many other states have embraced in the wake of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court clearing the way.

Supporters argue that sports wagering is already proving popular among consumers and that Massachusetts is missing out on tax revenue opportunities, particularly with a powerhouse of professional sports teams that could attract bettors.

In just the 2022 March Madness tournament, the American Gaming Association expects 45 million Americans will wager a collective $3.1 billion, according to projections the group published on March 13.

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