An amendment to a budget bill in Massachusetts proposes the legalization of online poker, but restricts the number of licenses allowed to three.
The proposal has the support of 18 lawmakers who attached their names to the plan that would require site operators to dole out a $10 million license fee within 30 days of being awarded a license. Licenses would be valid for 10 years, with taxation being waived for the first two years until the $10 million shelled out for licensing is reached. The tax rate percentage to be levied on poker room operators is not specified in the bill, eGR reported.
The amendment comes about two months after state legislators proposed a scheme under which the Massachusetts State Lottery would operate Internet poker sites. The new proposal does not permit other forms of online gambling, as Amendment #365 to House Bill 3400 is specifically titled “Internet Poker Licenses.”
Lawmakers point out that a large number of Massachusetts residents currently patronize unregulated offshore gambling websites that afford no safeguards or protection of funds. Regulation would eliminate that insecurity, as well as create a number of employment opportunities, earmark funds for programs to benefit addicted gamblers, and provide substantial revenue to the Bay State.
Although Massachusetts has no existing commercial casinos, legislation was approved late in 2011 that calls for three land-based casinos to be allowed in the state. Wagers likely won’t be accepted from live gamblers before 2016 at the brick and mortar establishments. Conceivably, the “Internet card rooms,” as the sites are identified in the amendment, could be active prior to the live casinos. Licenses for the land-based operations will be granted in 2014 and presumably, the three brick and mortars will also run the online poker sites.
Gaming companies who catered to the U.S. market after passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act on Oct. 13, 2006 would be precluded from obtaining a license in Massachusetts. Other states that have or are contemplating bad actor clauses, such as Nevada, have used Dec, 31, 2006 as an arbitrary cutoff date for UIGEA violators. New Jersey removed bad actor language from its statute that was signed by Governor Chris Christie in February and Illinois’ latest proposed bill did the same.
The language of the Massachusetts amendment seemingly calls for intrastate online poker only, but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has the authority to permit interstate agreements sometime in the future. The population of the Bay State is roughly 6.5 million, which is almost three times as large as Nevada. Whether that is enough to operate viable intrastate Internet card rooms is debatable.
It is anticipated that Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey will launch online poker and gambling sites this year. Industry analysts believe that a number of states will join the mix in 2014. Massachusetts could be one of those states if this latest measure is viewed with more favor than those proposed previously.