Saying that Massachusetts sports betting legislation has been a wild ride is an understatement.
This past week, the already muddy waters of sports wagering got muddier when the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee said he was okay with sports betting in the state, then walked back his comment just three days later.
Michael J. Rodrigues chairs the committee that has held the sports wagering bill in limbo since the summer of2021.
Why Rodrigues’ comments are frustrating
In July 2021, the Massachusetts House passed a sports betting bill with an incredibly decisive vote of 156-3. At the time, the overwhelming support of the bill indicated that it might have the legislative legs to make it to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. That’s a good thing, too: Baker supports sports betting in the Bay State.
After the vote, the bill moved from the House to the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, which is a group of lawmakers who mull and vote on state financial matters. The committee has dozens of bills on its docket, one of which is S269, “An Act to establish sports wagering in the Commonwealth.” S269 has been with the committee since July 21, 2021, and is part of a dozen bills backlogged from July 21, 2021, and earlier.
There has been zero movement on the bill according to the Ways and Means Committee’s records. The last recorded action on the bill notes that it was referred to the Ways and Means Committee on that date.
Why is Massachusetts taking so long on sports betting legislation?
Part of the delay may be due to the waffling of some lawmakers. Rodrigues is a good example of that ambivalence. Earlier this month he said he was “fine” with the sports betting bill. Three days later, he clarified his statement, saying, he is “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.”
Rodgrigues’ walk-back adds another soiled strand to the matted mane that has been sports betting’s judiciary journey in Massachusetts.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the committee isn’t just slow-playing the sports betting bill. It hasn’t had a hearing on any bills since June 2021, and the committee’s hearings schedule is empty. No hearings are scheduled for the near future.
Lawmakers vent as sports wagering languishes in committee
Inside the lawmaking arena that is the Ways and Means committee, action has been non-existent. Those who expected to see movement on the bill have received a symphony of crickets.
However, the action outside the arena has provided an entertaining respite amid the processional silence.
House Speaker Ron Mariano told Bloomberg Baystate Business he felt the state was missing out on important revenue because lawmakers are slow to move on the bill.
“It’s extremely frustrating, the amount of money we’re leaving on the table by just this stubborn reluctance to take the bill up,” Mariano said. “We have, I think, a good bill. Obviously, I’m willing to negotiate. But it takes two people to negotiate.”
Sen. Walter Timilty joined Mariano on Baystate Business to offer his insights, which expressed the same frustrations that Mariano’s statements did.
“As is the case with the House of Representatives, in the Senate it’s up to the Senate president to bring legislation to the floor for a vote,” Timilty said. “And hopefully the Senate president will bring it up for a vote this current year.”