Spilka discusses Senate’s handling of sports betting

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BOSTON (SHNS) – Senate President Karen Spilka on Monday defended the Senate’s decision to pass legislation legalizing sports betting without making individual senators’ votes known.

Spilka for weeks had said she wanted to build consensus on the issue before bringing a bill to the floor. The voice vote approving the bill indicates at least majority support in the 40-member body, but leaves unclear what the exact breakdown would be or where specific senators stand.

Asked Monday about the vote, Spilka said there was an “exhaustive process leading up to it coming to the floor” and that roll call votes were taken on some amendments to the bill.

“There was a general feeling that people felt good about where the bill was at, after what came to the floor as well as the amendments that were adopted, and so it went forward that way,” the Ashland Democrat said.

The House and Senate typically pass major bills with recorded roll call votes, though such votes are not required on most pieces of legislation. The votes are often used to demonstrate strong bipartisan support. Spilka said the decision to skip a roll call this time was “what the senators went forward with.”

“It wasn’t, you know, one person or two people,” she said. “It was a general consensus that they were ready to move forward.”

Any senator can request a roll call vote. Sen. Eric Lesser asked for one early in Thursday’s session, and got support for his request, before facing no objection later in the day when he withdrew his request.

Unlike other members of the Senate, the Senate president does not need to vote on any particular bill but can choose to do so. Spilka has declined to spell out her position on the Senate’s sports betting bill, saying before the vote Thursday that it “doesn’t matter whether I support it.”

“Generally, people know how I feel about gaming in general. I did not support the original casino bill,” Spilka said Monday. “I think that, again, when I go out to my district, this is not a big issue that I get questioned about. I get questioned about housing, about low-income poverty and the need to help people to get through COVID, education for their kids, health care. Transportation out in my district is a very big issue.”

The Senate bill differs from the one the House passed last year in key ways that will need to be reconciled if lawmakers are to get a final bill to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk by the July 31 end of formal sessions, including tax rates and advertising. The House’s bill would permit wagering on college athletics, while the Senate’s prohibits it. The differences create real questions about whether an accord will be reached.

The two branches on Monday did not appoint a conference committee to negotiate the bill, and their next opportunity to do so will be during their Thursday sessions.

House Speaker Ron Mariano has characterized leaving out collegiate sports as a “dealbreaker.”

“I’m happy we have a bill to discuss,” he said Monday. “That’s the first thing. I am disappointed it appears the Senate left probably the largest betting event in Massachusetts in the NCAA tournament in the hands of the black market, which is I think something that we will talk about. But I think we’ve begun the process and we’ll continue to talk about the good things in the bill and the things that we disagree with.”



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