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Senate President Karen Spilka says she would have voted ‘yes’ on bill to legalize sports betting

Senate President Karen E. SpilkaNicolaus Czarnecki/Pool

Massachusetts Senate President Karen E. Spilka, who voted against the state’s landmark casino gambling law in 2011, said in a radio interview Friday that she would have voted “yes” on a bill to legalize sports betting in the state.

Late last month, the chamber passed the bill on a voice vote, without recording the positions of each individual senator.

Spilka, who appeared on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” on Friday, was asked how she would have voted on the legislation.

“It’s no secret that I am not a fan of gambling. I worked on the original casino bills . . . I tried to make them better. I voted ‘no’ on those bills,” the Ashland Democrat said. “I would have voted ‘yes’ on this particular bill, based on the very strong pieces of consumer protection against problem gaming.”


The legislation was narrower than the version the House passed last summer, which Spilka said was enough to get her support. The bill would legalize sports betting in Massachusetts, but prohibit wagering on college sports, prohibit the use of credit cards to place bets, and mandate spending on a program to help those with gambling addictions.

The House bill would have allowed for betting on both professional and collegiate sporting events, like all but one of the 32 states and Washington, D.C., that have legalized sports gambling.

Colleges and universities in Massachusetts have been outspoken against sports betting, which they consider to be dangerous to student athletes and nonathletes alike.

The differences between the bills — primarily, whether collegiate sports will be included — will have to be hashed out among negotiators in both chambers before the legislation can be sent to Governor Charlie Baker, who has already expressed his support for legal sports betting.

“There will be another vote if the conference committee comes to a final bill,” Spilka said Friday, promising a roll call vote on the final version. “There will be a final vote on the floor and people will know where members stand on the final bill.”


On the day the Senate passed the bill, Spilka declined to comment on whether she supported it. And while the House passed bills to allow sports betting twice — in 2020 and 2021 — it never emerged as a standalone bill before the full Senate for debate until late April.

Baker, who also filed his own legislation to legalize sports betting, said after the Senate passed the bill that he was optimistic that the House, Senate, and his office could come to an agreement on a final product.

“This is one of those things that we should try and get done by the end of the year,” he said referring to the end of the formal session, which is set to finish by July 31.

Samantha J. Gross can be reached at Follow her @samanthajgross.