House Speaker shifts, subtly, on expectations for sports-betting legislation

House Speaker Ron Mariano seemed Monday to retreat, ever so slightly, from his previous suggestion that any bill legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts must include college sports to receive House backing.

Last week, the Senate passed a bill that would legalize sports betting but exclude college sports. The House passed legislation in 2021 that would include them.

Asked in a press conference if that difference would be a “deal breaker,” Mariano replied: “I think we have to face the fact they’re leaving half the — a large portion of the betting in the hands of the black market.”

Pressed on whether he could accept the Senate’s approach, Mariano answered: “As I said, I think we have to deal with the fact that a large portion of the potential betting events would still be in the hands of the black market.”

While those statements make Mariano’s preference abundantly clear, they seem to include more wiggle room than he offered in a 2021 interview with Bloomberg Baystate Business. In that conversation, Mariano said a refusal to allow wagering on college sports “probably would be” a dealbreaker for him.

Mariano was joined at Monday’s press conference by Governor Charlie Baker and Senate President Karen Spilka, who took questions from the media after concluding their regular weekly meeting.

Before Mariano’s remarks, Spilka struggled to explain why last week’s Senate vote on sports betting was conducted without a roll call, an approach State House observers have called highly unusual.

“That was what the senators went forward with,” Spilka said “It wasn’t one person or two people. It was a general consensus they were ready to move forward.”

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Spilka also suggested people curious about how their senator voted could contact them directly and find out. Asked what her vote was, she strongly implied she was opposed.

“Generally people know how I feel about gaming in general,” she said. “I did not support the original casino bill.”

A House and Senate conference committee will now be charged with hammering out a compromise that could be passed by both chambers and sent to Baker, who supports legalization, by the end of the formal legislative session on July 31.