The state of Massachusetts is in the news of late due to online poker legislation that has a chance of gaining traction. With neighboring Pennsylvania teasingly close to passing its online gambling bill and New Jersey increasing its visibility with the pending introduction of PokerStars to the market, online poker fans have reasons to be excited that Massachusetts may join the fray.
It may not ring a bell, but Massachusetts has been considering online gambling legislation for several years. Let’s enter the time machine for a moment.
In early 2013, Massachusetts was in the online poker news headlines for attempting to regulate the games. State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr introduced a bill to allow the distribution of legal online gambling licenses to its four existing casinos. The bill never gained much traction until Tarr attempted to make it an amendment to the Senate budget. Though supported by several Republican senators, the attempt failed.
Several months later, introduced a bill (S1826) to amend a transportation bill with a barely-relevant online gambling license provision. The bill consisted of a 20% taxation rate, set licensing fees, and legalization of online poker as well as casino games that didn’t conflict with the state lottery. That amendment was rejected as well.
Not long into 2014, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission offered a hearing on Internet gambling, and the MGC asked the legislature to allow the Lottery Commission to move forward with efforts to experiment with an online lottery and possibly try poker as well. SB101 was the bill that pushed for the trials in order to become familiar with the technology and industry in case the space became more competitive in the future. That effort never gained enough traction.
Most of the 2015 year passed without mention of the possibility of online poker in Massachusetts, but news popped up in December like a mysterious gift under the holiday tree. The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro, Massachusetts, reported that Tarr filed yet another online gambling bill. This time, the bill was part of a larger effort to expand the overall gambling sector in the state due to the growing competition in neighboring states.
Allowing those we are counting on to produce revenue for Massachusetts and our cities and towns to conduct online gaming will give them a competitive advantage, and increase their chances of success,” he told the newspaper.
The MGC was on board with the proposal as well, with Chairman Stephen Crosby noting in a December meeting that it made sense for the legislature to draft an omnibus bill to regulate the new “electronic gaming technologies.” He noted that it should include e-sports, online poker, and “whatever all the new ones are” so as to put forward a list of regulatory priorities to address the issues.
And a Lowell Sun article on December 31 gave credence to Crosby’s intentions. The Massachusetts Lottery announced that it already began gathering information about an online lottery, inviting organizations to submit proposals for its development and operation. In addition, information was to be welcomed for “gaming systems that allow for cross-pollination between online applications and physical retailer space and any other progressive gaming opportunities that may be available.”
The deadline for responses was set for February 26, 2016, though the Lottery Commission reserved the right to request more specific information as the process moved forward.
What are 2016 Possibilities?
The aforementioned gathering of information is encouraging. The interest of the MGC and the Lottery Commission in developing online games to improve the state’s gambling industry seems to have taken on new life as 2016 began, especially with the sense of urgency that the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry has inspired in recent months.
Tarr has demonstrated a long-term commitment to the issue of online poker and gambling, and his consistent support of the issue is rare with so many other pressing matters on the minds of legislators. However, he has taken opportunities in past years to try to push bills where possible, and he is likely to keep tabs on the MGC process as well as any other place that a bill might gain traction.
The Poker Players Alliance is also positive about Massachusetts and online poker, though Player Relations VP Rich Muny doesn’t list the Bay State as one of the year’s top-tier possibilities.
“We see a good opportunity there,” Muny told Poker Update. “We encourage everyone in Massachusetts to take action and let their elected representatives know that they want this liberty.”
Note: The PPA does have a tool on its website that makes it easy to find one’s elected officials and send messages to them.
Muny also added, “In terms of likelihood [of online poker legislation passing], we see California and Pennsylvania as the top tier, ready to move on this (but no guarantees, of course). Massachusetts, New York, and states like that are right behind.”
Poker Update will keep its eye on Massachusetts as the year progresses.