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State Senate poised to debate long-awaited sports betting bill Thursday — but differences with House remain

Prop bets listed on a digital boardEthan Miller

The prospect of legalized sports betting in Massachusetts could take another step forward this week, when the state Senate is expected to debate its version of a bill to greenlight gambling on professional teams.

But the proposed measure continues to have key differences with a counterpart bill approved last year by the state’s House of Representatives, notably a Senate prohibition against wagers being placed on college sports.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee advanced the bill Friday, according to the Legislature’s website.

Senators are scheduled to meet for a formal session Thursday morning on the legislation, according to Antonio Caban, a spokesperson for Senate President Karen Spilka.

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“I am pleased to see the committee has come to agreement on a strong proposal and I look forward to discussing it with my colleagues next week,” said Spilka in a statement Friday.

Sports betting has become a highly lucrative market since the US Supreme Court struck down a federal law in 2018. Americans spent nearly $9.3 billion on sports betting in January, according to the American Gaming Association. More than two dozen states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports gambling, or are in the process of implementing it.

In Massachusetts, the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee estimated the bill would create $35 million in annual revenue, according to the State House News Service.

The measure would also empower the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to oversee sports betting in the state.

The Senate bill would establish a process for the state’s casinos and racetracks to seek licenses for in-person sports betting, as well as for placing wagers through digital platforms and through mobile apps. It would also permit a limited number of licensees to offer betting electronically through mobile devices and online.

The bill’s prohibition on college sports betting followed a request from officials at schools such as Boston College, Harvard University, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts.

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They had argued that betting on collegiate athletics would lead to “unnecessary and unacceptable risks” to students and to the integrity and culture of the state’s colleges and universities.

A group like a sports governing body or players association can also request the gaming commission to restrict, limit, or exclude specific kinds of wagering, the legislation said.

Those requests may be based on concerns such as a belief that sports betting would be contrary to public policy, unfair to consumers, or “undermine the perceived integrity” of that organization or its sporting events.

The Senate measure calls for rules to govern issues such as prohibiting the use of credit cards to place wagers in person or online; to investigate complaints; to allow people to set limits on how much money, and how often, they gamble; and to address compulsive and problem gambling, according to the bill.

The bill would devote a portion of sports betting revenue to assist social service and public health programs dedicated to addressing problems associated with compulsive sports gambling, the measure said.

The House bill, passed in July, includes several similar provisions, including giving sports organizations the ability to limit the kinds of betting that are allowed under the law. It also calls for some gambling revenues to be deposited into a state Public Health Trust Fund to support programs to address compulsive gambling or other addiction services.

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In recent weeks, some officials have lamented the pace of getting legislation approved. Governor Charlie Baker, who filed his own sports betting legislation, tweeted before the Super Bowl in February that the state “is losing out to neighboring states on this, especially during big games.

House Speaker Ron Mariano, who backed his chamber’s version of the bill when it was approved in July, has said the House bill would bring in an estimated $60 million in annual revenue, plus millions more from licensing fees.

Excluding college betting would mean the state would lose out on millions of dollars in revenue, according to Mariano.

Last month, Mariano expressed frustration with the pace of the legislation during an interview with Bloomberg Baystate Business. Massachusetts residents often go to neighboring states to place sports bets, he said.

“It’s extremely frustrating that the amount of money we’re leaving on the table by just this stubborn reluctance to take the bill up,” he said. “We have a good bill, and obviously I’m willing to negotiate. But it takes two people to negotiate.”

Mariano did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.

Caban has previously said the Senate was working on sports betting legislation, but expressed disappointment that it appeared to generate more discussion than work on issues such as child care, mental health, and climate change.

On Saturday, Caban declined to answer a question about whether Spilka supported the new bill. He did not respond to a question about the status of negotiations over the legislation.

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Other responses to the Senate bill were muted Saturday.

“We’re pleased to hear that there has been some positive progress,” said Rosie Abrams, the spokeswoman for Encore Boston Harbor, in a brief statement Saturday.

A spokesman for DraftKings declined to comment.

Samantha Gross of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.