Lesser says ‘broad consensus’ explains sports betting voice vote

In a highly unusual move, the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday voted for a bill legalizing sports betting by voice vote – sparing individual senators the need to record their position through a roll call vote and denying constituents the opportunity to know where each senator stands.

Eric Lesser, the Senate chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, disputed the fact that the public does not know their senator’s stance. “The public does know how senators voted because there were multiple amendments and there was debate for hours throughout the day,” Lesser said.

Under Senate rules, Lesser said, any senator could have called for a roll call. But he said by the time the amendments were debated “there was broad consensus, and in the four years since the Supreme Court legalized sports betting, there was “a pretty exhaustive processleading up to the vote. 

We were getting towards the end of things and people felt like it was in a good place. And so…we didn’t feel it was necessary,” Lesser said of a roll call. “At that point, people felt comfortable with where the bill was. There really wasn’t any opposition.”

Lesser joined Father Richard McGowan, a Boston College finance professor who is a national expert on legalized gambling on this week’s Codcast to discuss the recent Senate vote on sports betting – and the chance sports betting will be legalized this year.

McGowan gave sports betting a 70 to 80 percent chance of the House and Senate coming to an agreement that is signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker. “Let’s face it, you might as well,” McGowan said. “All the neighboring states have it. So why not bring it back to Massachusetts?”

Lesser, who will likely play a major role negotiating a final bill, wouldn’t put odds on his chances of success. “All I’ll say is that we’ve been working on it for several years now and there’s growing consensus,” Lesser said.The Senate, for the first time, did a stand-alone bill on the floor. And we’ll see where it goes.”

There are several major differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate envisions a higher tax rate and additional consumer protections, like a ban on betting with credit cards. The Senate bill is estimated to raise $35 million annually in revenue, while the House bill would raise an estimated $60 million. The House bill would allow betting on college sports, while the Senate would not.

House Speaker Ron Mariano has called not allowing betting on college sports a dealbreaker.

But Lesser said there are big differences between college and professional sports. College athletes aren’t paid and don’t have players associations to protect their interests. Most professional leagues support sports betting. But, Lesser said, “The colleges have told us that they don’t want betting on their campuses and they don’t believe that betting and a betting culture is an environment that they want with their athletes or with their student populations.”

In states like Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi, where college sports teams have large followings, McGowan said college sports betting is a huge deal. But, in Massachusetts, people are much more focused on professional sports. Other than March Madness, McGowan said, “I don’t think there’s really that great of a demand” for betting on college sports.

Even without betting on college games, McGowan anticipates that sports betting will “cause a real problem for some of the colleges,” where officials will have to decide if they want to block sports betting through college internet connections.

Baker and Mariano have long been pushing Senate President Karen Spilka to bring sports betting to a vote,  and the president still has not said whether she personally supports it. Asked on Wednesday, Spilka refused to give her position. “It doesn’t matter whether I support it, it matters whether the senators, and the Senate as a whole supports it,” Spilka said.

Asked what took the Senate so long, Lesser said,This is still a gambling product and a lot of members of the Senate are concerned about expanding gambling.” Lesser said it took time to develop robust consumer protections – like the credit card ban, limits on advertising, and a self-exclusion list – that make those senators more comfortable.

McGowan said this concern has been born out in other states – for example, New Jersey saw its level of problem gambling double from 2 percent of players to 4 percent due to online betting. Despite that, McGowan said there has been a national trend toward allowing more controversial practices, like gambling, as long as they do not hurt anyone other than potentially the person choosing to participate. It took over 30 years for 30 states to have a lottery. It took less than three years for 30 states to have sports gambling,” McGowan said.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Costly fight: Charter school opponents three years ago succeeded in blocking a new approach to charter expansion in New Bedford, but the warnings from proponents of the approach turned out to be right on target – blocking the proposal paved the way for a much bigger expansion at the charter school that is costing the city about $4 million more per year.

– The unusual deal in New Bedford was seen as a compromise by all parties. The charter school Alma del Mar agreed to a smaller expansion – 450 rather than 594 new seats – and also agreed to take students exclusively from a specific geographic area in the city. The compromise, brokered by Education Commission Jeff Riley, would have been the first time a charter school was integrated into a district school system.

– Charter school opponents, led by teacher unions, mounted a campaign against the compromise and succeeded in blocking approval for it on Beacon Hill. Some questioned whether Alma del Mar would even attract 594 students, while others made clear New Bedford’s initiative had to be stopped before it could spread. “This is a part of a bigger struggle that speaks to the privatization of public goods across the board,” said Ricardo Rosa, who at the time was co-chair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools. 

– Demand for the charter school’s seats is strong. Alma’s enrollment lottery for the upcoming school year had 787 students apply for just 188 new seats in kindergarten and sixth grade. Read more.

OPINION

Stopping wage theft: Tom Juravich, a professor of labor studies at UMass Amherst, said the state needs new tools to combat the growing epidemic of wage theft. Read more.

New formula: Transit planning advocate Ben Chase comes up with a new formula for setting commuter rail fares. Read more.

Do it online: Pat Kinsell, founder and CEO of notarize, says online notarization makes sense in today’s world. Read more.

No more cash bail: Sandra Susan Smith and Isabella Jorgensen of the Harvard Kennedy School believe it’s time to eliminate cash bail in Massachusetts. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

An inspector general report is highly critical of Bennett Walsh, the former head of the Holyoke Soldiers Home, calling him unfit in leadership skills and temperament when he was appointed. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Critics call out a “damning lack of transparency” in the Senate’s voice vote on sports gambling. (MassLive)

A poll shows Massachusetts voters are evenly divided on whether to grant driver’s licenses to people here without legal immigration status, a move that Beacon Hill lawmakers overwhelmingly support. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The city of Lynn takes a former bank building by eminent domain to house municipal offices. During the process, the price rose from $1.5 million to $2.7 million. (Daily Item)

The New Bedford City Council shoots down a controversial proposal to use drones in policing. (Standard-Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A congressional delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosio and including US Reps. Jim McGovern and Bill Keating travels to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

State Sen. Harriette Chandler and Steve Kerrigan attend the funeral of former secretary of state Madeleine Albright (Albright died March 23) and recall their relationships with her. (Telegram & Gazette)

ELECTIONS

A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll shows Democratic frontrunner Maura Healey would defeat either Republican candidate for governor by a 2-1 margin. Her Democratic nomination rival Sonia Chang-Diaz would also coast over either GOP candidate. (Boston Globe

Herald columnist Peter Lucas suggests Attorney General Maura Healey’s rapid reversal on whether the new no-cash policy at Fenway Park passes legal muster was a favor to Red Sox owners John and Linda Henry that she hopes will be repaid in the pages of the Boston Globe, which John Henry owns and Linda Henry manages.

Less than half of the state’s registered voters approve of the job President Biden is doing, according to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Tailwind Air will start offering summer seaplane service from Boston Harbor to Provincetown Harbor in 35 minutes. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Twelve years ago, Westfield State University leased a 42-unit apartment building downtown and turned it into student housing. Now, the university decided not to renew the lease – after complaints about partying, the building of more on-campus housing, and a desire of students to live on campus. (MassLive)

In the past two months, Westfield schools enrolled 40 new students who don’t speak English, many of them refugees from Ukraine. (MassLive)

TRANSPORTATION

Summer train service to the Berkshires from New York City is coming, but travelers will discover that getting around the county once you arrive isn’t that easy. (Berkshire Eagle)

The MBTA commuter rail returns to Rockport and Gloucester after a two-year absence due to construction on the Gloucester drawbridge. (Gloucester Daily Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early defends the altering of the arrest report of a judge’s daughter in testimony during an Ethics Commission hearing, saying, “You don’t make people needlessly suffer.” (MassLive

Suffolk County DA Kevin Hayden will announce today a ramping up of diversion efforts to steer troubled people in the Mass. and Cass area to addiction treatment and other services rather than prosecution. (Boston Globe

MEDIA

The stepdaughter of William Loeb, the late publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, says she was sexually molested by him as a young child. (New Hampshire Union Leader) Northeastern journalism professor Dan Kennedy has more. (Media Nation) 

The New York Times rolls out a massive, multi-part examination of the rise of Fox News star Tucker Carlson, who hosts “what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful.” 

PASSINGS

Kathleen Casavant, who rose to become the highest-ranking woman leader of the state AFL-CIO, died at age 70. (Boston Globe