With less than six months remaining for the Legislature to debate controversial topics this session and sports betting high on the watch list, the Mass. Gaming Commission is particularly interested to see what, if anything, comes of an amendment the House added to its betting bill that would allow slot machines in venues other than the state’s three licensed gaming facilities.
Crystal Howard, the commission’s chief administrative officer and special projects manager, updated commissioners Thursday on the status of a handful of bills that the regulators have been keeping an eye on, like a remote meeting extension (included in H 4430, which the governor said he would sign) and a bill (S 2535) that would create a new state racing board (extended until June 1).
She also said the commission is monitoring for any action on sports betting, which has been hung up in the Legislature since the House voted overwhelmingly in July to legalize. A similar Senate bill has been pending before the Senate Ways and Means Committee for months and Senate leaders have made it clear at this point that they are in no rush to make sports wagering legal in Massachusetts, if they want to approve it at all.
Howard reminded the commission that the House also adopted an amendment to the sports betting bill that would add a “lot of complexity” to the Gaming Commission’s work. As passed by the House, the sports betting bill would allow a veterans’ organization to operate “a gaming establishment with no table games and not more than 5 slot machines” for only its members in good standing if it secures a “limited slot machine license” from the Gaming Commission.
“So we’re really interested in what happens there,” Howard said. Commissioner Eileen O’Brien was particularly interested in whether the amendment speaks to the review or supervision of these dispersed slots.
The House adopted the amendment filed by Rep. Paul McMurtry of Dedham without discussion during its consideration of the sports betting bill last July, but it appears to direct the Gaming Commission to come up with the regulations to make it a reality, including the application process and suitability standards.
Commissioner Brad Hill, who voted in favor of the House sports betting bill as a representative last summer, said Thursday that he does not expect the veteran organization slot machine authorization to survive if a sports betting bill moves to the governor’s desk.
“I think it’s safe to say, Commissioner O’Brien, and I don’t want to speak for the Legislature, but because the language was not as good as it could have been, there have been a lot of questions from a lot of legislators on how this would be implemented,” he said. “So although they are talking about it, I’m not sure that it’s ready for primetime. And I would argue that probably when we see a bill ... it probably will not include the veterans at this time because it is a complicated thing and this would really put our staff in a position to oversee that might be difficult for them to do.”
While the House has twice voted to authorize sports betting in the last two years, the topic has not emerged in the Senate for discussion. Senate President Karen Spilka said last month that “some [senators] want to do it, some are uncertain they want to do it.” Despite the Senate’s longstanding indifference, Hill said Thursday that he is still optimistic that a sports betting bill will get done this session.
“I still feel — and I’m making an opinion, not a fact — I think we’re really going to see something before July 31, and when it comes, it’s going to come quick,” Hill said. “And I know the staff is preparing for that and have done a good job of getting ready should that happen.”