Healey Says Sports Betting “Is The Way Now”

Attorney General Maura Healey on Thursday voiced support for legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts and said she expects state lawmakers can work their way through the measure that’s been stalled in the Senate for months.

“Sports betting, it is the way now, and I’m confident the Legislature will work something out,” Healey said during an interview on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”

The House has twice passed language seeking to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts, a concept that Gov. Charlie Baker also backs. In the Senate, where a majority of senators have either cosponsored a sports wagering bill or said they’d support it in some form, President Karen Spilka said this week that she’s still looking for “consensus” on the details.

“If we’re able to reach a consensus, the intention is to bring it to the floor and debate it on the floor and let the senators decide,” Spilka said Monday, declining to stake out a personal position on sports betting.

Healey said she did not have any insights as to why Massachusetts has not yet legalized sports betting. Other states have made the move in the wake of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found a nearly nationwide prohibition unconstitutional.

“I know it’s been the subject of a lot of discussion and, you know, I assume that the Legislature will work its way through this issue,” Healey said.

Asked if she supports sports betting, Healey said, “Yeah, I do.”

The bill (H 3993) the House passed in July 2021, which has been before the Senate Ways and Means Committee since then, would put sports betting under the purview of the state Gaming Commission, require that all bettors be at least 21 years old and physically present in Massachusetts, and implement consumer safeguards to protect against problem gambling similar to those put in place for casinos when Massachusetts expanded gaming in 2011.

If lawmakers do end up legalizing sports betting this session, much of the regulatory activity could take place after the next governor takes office in January 2023. Healey is vying against state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz for the Democratic nomination for governor, while Republicans Geoff Diehl and Chris Doughty compete across the aisle.

When the News Service this month surveyed senators about sports wagering, Chang-Díaz said: “I’m open to it and, as with all legislation, the specifics will matter. My top concerns will be around ensuring we’re making our tax code more progressive, not regressive, and ensuring economic development opportunities serve communities most often left out.”

Chang-Díaz was one of 14 senators who voted against authorizing casino gambling in 2011, as was Spilka.

In 2014, during Healey’s initial bid for attorney general, she backed an effort to repeal the casino law. “To those worried about casinos, I will hold their feet to the fire,” she said in her election night victory speech that year.

On Thursday, Healey acknowledged she “came from a place where I opposed gambling.”

“Remember back when I was running for attorney general, I opposed casinos, right, and I was always concerned about addiction, gambling addiction, and I was concerned about exploitation, I was concerned about protecting consumers, so to speak, right,” she said. “It’s here, and my office has a team that investigates issues in our gaming establishments and I have an appointment to the gaming commission, so it is here.”

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