IN WHAT MAY BE the ultimate inside story on Beacon Hill, new details are starting to emerge on why the Senate dispensed with a final roll call vote on sports betting legislation last week.
Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow launched the debate on sports betting and, per standard Senate practice, asked for a call of the yeas and nays when it came time to take a final vote on the legislation. But then, as the debate came to an end, he reversed course and withdrew his motion. A voice vote was taken instead, so no senator’s position on the overall legislation was recorded.
Lesser and Senate President Karen Spilka said there was general consensus in the Senate on the bill so the decision was made to dispense with a roll call vote. “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.” Spilka adopted a similar position and declined to say where she stood on the bill.
Several senators contacted by CommonWealth said they had no information on the change in course and didn’t really care.
One senator, however, had a bit more information. The senator, who asked not to be identified, said there was no explanation for the decision to skip a call of the yeas and nays. “It was sort of an organic last-minute thing,” the senator said.
The senator said it was his understanding that only three senators — one of them being Sen. Barry Finegold of Andover — opposed the legislation. The senator said one of the three went to Spilka and asked her to not hold a roll call vote.
Finegold declined to comment on the roll call issue or to say where he stood on the bill.
“I really don’t have a comment. At the end of the day, there will be a vote on the final bill and we’ll see how people vote on that,” he said.
Finegold opposed casino gambling as a state senator in 2011 and a candidate for treasurer in 2014. He also was one of four senators on the Senate Ways and Means Committee to reserve his rights (meaning he took no position) on sports betting when the bill moved through that committee this year. The other three were Sens. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville, John Keenan of Quincy, and Ryan Fattman of Sutton.
A spokesman for Spilka also declined to provide any additional details. “The Senate president is pleased the Senate adopted a strong bill last Thursday that confronts the issue of problem gambling head on and that provides robust consumer protections. A consensus of the members approved of advancing the legislation via a voice vote, and so that is why the Senate adopted the legislation through that action,” the spokesman said in a statement.
The Senate and House are now trying to find common ground on their two bills, which differ in several key respects. The House bill, for example, would allow betting on college sports, while the Senate version does not. 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.