Massachusetts Senate President Says Sports Betting Bill Should Serve as ‘National Model’

Posted on: March 16, 2021, 08:48h. 

Last updated on: March 16, 2021, 09:17h.

Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka (D-2nd Middlesex and Norfolk) says any sports betting bill passed in the state should serve as a “national model.”

Massachusetts sports betting Karen Spilka
Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka is seen celebrating her election to the chamber position in July of 2018. The highest-ranking senator says the state must get it right if it wishes to legalize sports betting. (Image: MetroWest Daily News)

Though Spilka believes Massachusetts could serve as the blueprint for legalizing sports betting, her state is lagging far behind the nationwide movement of allowing people to wager on sports.

Legal sports betting is operational in 20 states, plus DC. Another 17 states have passed laws to regulate sports betting, or are considering bills to allow the expanded gambling. Meanwhile, the odds remain long that Massachusetts lawmakers will soon come to terms on sports betting regulations and send a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker’s (R) desk.

The Massachusetts Legislature has received five pieces of legislation seeking to legalize sports betting in their 2021 session. Each presents differing regulations and specifics as to how such gambling should operate. 

President Anti-Gambling Past

Chatting recently with Bloomberg Radio, Spilka concedes that she has opposed gambling during her time in office, which dates back two decades. She voted against the 2011 Expanded Gaming Act. The act authorized three casino resorts with slot machines and table games, plus a slots-only facility.

Spilka said that despite not being a champion of gambling, she nonetheless worked with lawmakers on the 2011 bill to better the legislation. 

“While I did not vote for casino gambling — full disclosure, I am not a gambler — the bill that we ultimately passed, which I was one or two senators to have a lead role in developing that bill, the one that we finally passed serves still as a national model,” Spilka opined. 

“And if we do go down the road of authorizing sports betting, I’d like to be able to say the same thing for that bill,” she continued. “I will wait to see what kind of (sports betting) bill we end up. A lot of members have had various ideas …. so there will be a lot of debate and discussion.”

Massachusetts on Legal Sidelines

March Madness tips off this week and oddsmakers across the country are expecting a flurry of activity. The 2020 men’s college basketball tournament was called off because of COVID-19. A year later, Americans in more than a dozen additional states can now access a legal, regulated sportsbook.

New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island have sports betting operational. Mobile wagers can be made legally in New Hampshire and in Rhode Island, while New Yorkers must travel to upstate brick-and-mortar casinos to place their bets. 

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a slew of issues surrounding sports betting. 

Some politicians say only the three casinos should be permitted sports betting privileges, while others favor allowing pari-mutuel betting facilities to operate sportsbooks, too. One bill suggests allowing bars, restaurants, and convenience stores to offer sports betting kiosks. 

Another lawmaker, Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Middlesex), says sports betting should be prohibited at the casinos. He believes Massachusetts residents have limited gaming dollars, and instead of it all going to the commercial casinos, their sports betting money should be used at small businesses. 

“If it all goes into a casino, then that’s money that’s not spent at the local restaurant or museum in the community,” Eldridge stated.