BOSTON (SHNS) – With the House looking like it will overwhelmingly pass a sports betting bill Thursday afternoon, the senator handling the issue said he thinks his more reluctant branch is “ready to do this — if it’s done the right way.”
Though he did not say when the Senate, which has been far less interested than the House in legalizing sports betting, might debate the issue Sen. Eric Lesser told NESN that Massachusetts “should really hope and aim to get this going by the end of the calendar year.”
“I think we’re ready. Look, it’s been three years since the Supreme Court allowed states to move forward on sports betting. Since then you went from two states — New Jersey and Nevada — that had sports betting markets to 30. And again, almost all of our neighbors in almost all the states in the Northeast now have it,” Lesser said on the regional sports network. “So it’s time. It’s time for Massachusetts to do this.”
The House will debate 28 amendments to its sports betting bill (H 3977) that cleared the Ways and Means Committee on a 28-0 vote this week. Among the amendments to be considered are proposals to allow pro sports venues like Fenway Park to accept bets in person, to give mobile license preference to daily fantasy sports operators already doing business in Massachusetts and at least two other states, and to allow people as young as 18 to place bets through mobile platforms.
The House gavels in at 11 a.m. Thursday, but debate on the sports betting bill and any roll call votes are not expected until after 1 p.m.
Once the bill passes the House, eyes will shift to watch for Lesser’s sports betting bill (S 269) to emerge from the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The House and Senate are expected to take a summer break soon and it’s unclear when the Senate plans to take up a sports betting bill. Like the House, the Senate largely takes it workload one week at a time.
The House approved sports betting legalization last summer as part of an economic development bill, but the Senate turned down multiple opportunities to do the same. Lesser told NESN that senators will likely key in on problem gaming and consumer protections if or when they debate the issue this session.
“It is, at the end of the day, a gambling product and we do need to remember that. We have a lot of senators that are concerned about that and want to make sure that people who might have an addiction, people who might fall prey to bad activity, are protected,” he said. “So we’re going to make sure that any bill … has a lot of consumer protections in place and really sets a high standard for the quality of play. “
Though he said he thought the end of 2021 is a realistic expectation for sports betting to launch in Massachusetts, Lesser said “the Senate will, may or may not take something up in the near future.”
Senate President Karen Spilka was among the opponents of a push to legalize casino gambling in 2010 before then leading the successful effort in 2011 to get a redrafted casino bill passed and signed into law.
“There will be a lot of discussion,” she said in March, referring to sports betting. “I know a lot of members have had various ideas and thoughts about it, whether to do it or not do it, or how to do it. So there will be a lot of debate and discussion about it.”