Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday signed a bill legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts, making official a years-long push to bring sports wagering in the state into the light of day.
The bill was one of several Baker put his signature on Wednesday as the second-term Republican cleared from his desk several major pieces the Legislature passed in the waning hours of its formal session last week.
Baker also signed a measure intended to expand access to mental health care, and he signed a bill that included language retooling the state’s gun laws in the wake of a Supreme Court decision expanding gun rights across the country. Baker also signed off on billions of dollars in borrowing on transportation and infrastructure projects, though he returned some parts of that bill back to lawmakers.
Notably, he has yet to act on a sweeping climate change and energy bill, or a package of significant changes to the state’s booming marijuana industry — both of which he must move on by Thursday.
The sports betting bill has been one long in the making. Massachusetts is now the 36th state to legalize sports betting after the US Supreme Court declared states have the authority to legalize it.
Baker first filed a bill seeking to legalize sports wagering in Massachusetts in 2019.
“We appreciate the dedication and compromise that the Legislature demonstrated on this issue, and we look forward to supporting the work of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on the responsible implementation of the law over the next several months,” Baker said in a statement.
But even with Baker’s signature, there is expected to be a gap of several months before legal betting on college and professional sports goes live in this sports-loving state.
College sports was one sticking point in negotiations among legislative leaders, who announced they reached a deal around dawn on Aug. 1. The Senate wanted to prohibit betting on college games, a restriction that college presidents in the state had lobbied for. The House had initially voted to allow college wagering entirely, in part because of the increased revenue that comes with the popular March Madness basketball tournament.
Lawmakers’ ultimately compromised to allow college sports betting with restrictions: Bets on in-state teams are not allowed, unless the team is participating in a national tournament.
Horse and greyhound racing sites, including simulcast-only, are also eligible to accept sports bets. In-game betting — as well as parlays, money line, over-under, proposition, and straight bets — will be legal.
Baker also signed off Wednesday on changes to the state’s gun laws. The bill would broaden who is prohibited from getting a license to carry to anyone who has a temporary or permanent harassment prevention order against them, as well as require police to conduct a “personal interview” of anyone seeking a license to carry, according to legislative officials.
The legislation also bars police from imposing restrictions on licenses, something Massachusetts officials said a Supreme Court case, known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, demanded. The decision overturned a New York law — similar to one in Massachusetts — that required applicants to prove a special need to get a license to carry a firearm in public.
The mental health bill Baker signed will, among other changes, mandate insurance coverage for an annual mental health wellness exam and ensure compliance with the state’s mental health parity laws.
Baker also signed an $11.4 billion transportation and infrastructure bond bill, but he sought changes, or outright vetoed, some parts. For example, he returned a section to lawmakers that would have required the MBTA to produce weekly reports tracking their progress on hiring, a persistent challenge at the agency. Baker instead proposed the T be mandated to report it monthly.
Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.