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Healey says she backs legal sports betting in Mass. as lawmakers mull bill

Maura Healey spoke outside a T stop earlier this year.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Attorney General Maura Healey, who once backed repealing the state law legalizing casino gambling, said Thursday she supports legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts and expressed confidence the Legislature would pass legislation that has stalled in the state Senate.

Healey, a South End Democrat now running for governor, said in a radio interview that sports betting “is the way now,” a nod to its growing acceptance by lawmakers across the country.

Since the Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a federal law that banned sports betting, 30 states and the District of Columbia have gotten into the business or are in the process of doing so, including four of Massachusetts’ five immediate neighbors.

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Healey declined earlier this month to say where she stood. Asked Thursday on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” whether she personally supports legalization, she was straightforward.

“Well, I do,” she said before quickly acknowledging she opposed casino gambling when she first ran for attorney general in 2014. At the time, she supported a ballot question that would have repealed the state’s 2011 gaming law, saying that “casinos are bad for Massachusetts.” (The initiatives ultimately failed.)

“I was always concerned about addiction, gambling addiction. I was concerned about exploitation. I was concerned about protecting consumers so to speak, right?” Healey said. “It’s here, and my office has a team that investigates issues that are in our gaming establishments. I have an appointment to the gaming commission. So it is here.

“Sports betting,” she added, “it is the way now. And I’m confident the Legislature will work something out.”

State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, who is also running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, told the State House News Service she is “open” to legalizing sports betting. Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Geoff Diehl and Chris Doughty both said they support such a measure.

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A bill passed the House last July, and Governor Charlie Baker has multiple times filed legislation to legalize sports betting. But the concept has not been embraced in the state Senate, where some lawmakers fear that easier access to wagering in Massachusetts — which has the highest average lottery spending per capita in the nation — could put people at risk of losing their money, the Globe has reported.

A State House News Service survey of the chamber’s 40 members found at least 60 percent support legalization, though Senate President Karen E. Spilka — who opposed the state’s casino law a decade ago — has said she still wants to find “consensus” on details of the legislation before pushing it toward a vote.

Separately, Healey also said Thursday she would commit to doing two televised debates with Chang-Díaz between the state Democratic Party’s June convention and the Sept. 6 primary.

It’s a far cry from what Chang-Díaz had pushed for: three debates ahead of June 4, when Democrats will meet in Worcester to vote on their party’s official endorsements and determine which statewide candidates will make the primary ballot.

Healey’s campaign said it also has accepted two “media forum invitations” ahead of the convention. One, scheduled for April 19, is hosted by two Boston Democratic ward committees, and another on April 27 will focus on climate and the environment.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him @mattpstout.