Massachusetts House and Senate negotiators remain "far apart" on legislation that would legalize sports betting, Speaker Ron Mariano said Thursday, and there's no timeline for action on half a dozen other major bills bottled up in private talks.
Mariano said he is "hopeful" the Legislature can reach agreement on a sports gambling bill his branch has long supported by the time formal sessions wrap up -- lawmakers may hold formal sessions through Sunday, July 31.
But asked to assess the chances "realistically," he took a different tone.
"Realistically, I don't know," Mariano said. "We're far apart."
The chief negotiators on the competing bills are Rep. Jerald Parisella of Beverly and Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport. The bills were assigned to conference committee on May 19, and the group has opted to deliberate only in private.
A pressure point is whether to allow wagers on college sports in addition to professional contests, which the House included in its bill (H 3993) and the Senate left out of its version (S 2862). Mariano in the past has estimated state revenues would drop from $60 million to as low as $25 million if the bill omits college sports.
"I'm reluctant to turn over college sports to the black market," he said after meeting with House Democrats. "I've had that position since the beginning. If we're going to do this, I think there's an opportunity to include college sports rather than let it be only handled by bookies. I mean, I don't understand if you're going to do sports betting why you're going to leave out the Final Four, the bowl games, and the whole college football season. It just doesn't seem to me to be worth doing if you're going to leave those."
A reporter observed in response that if no final sports betting legalization bill gets approved, everything -- not just college sports -- would flow to bookies.
"That's the way it is now," Mariano said.
Sports betting is one of the many topics tied up in private conference committee talks after both branches approved divergent legislation.
Panels produced final accords on clean energy and general government bond bills ahead of Thursday's House and Senate sessions, but others dealing with issues such as reproductive rights, military family licensure, mental health access and cannabis industry reforms have offered no indication if they are close to completion.