The Road to Online Poker Legalization in Massachusetts
While it seems like that Massachusetts has just hopped aboard the regulation bandwagon, the truth is that they have been considering the issue at various times since 2011. Unfortunately, the state has never come close to regulating the activity. This is likely due to casino industry being next to non-existent in the state.
Lawmakers first looked at regulating online poker in Massachusetts and online gambling in 2011. Rep. Dan Winslow attached online gambling regulation a casino gaming bill being consider by the legislature that year. However, the amendment was doomed to fail and some feel that the Black Friday played a major role in iGaming failing that year.
Senator Bruce Tarr tried again in February 2012 to regulate iGaming. He submitted a bill that would have given the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) the power to grant iGaming licenses. With Black Friday still fresh on everyone’s mind, this bill didn’t even advance out of committee.
In 2013, House Minority Leader Bradley Jones tried to float iGaming regulation in the state budget. His proposal would have granted three licenses for online poker at a cost of $10 million per license. Only companies that had not violated the UIGEA would have been licensed and they would have paid an additional monthly fee to operate in the state. The amendment failed to gain support and was removed from later drafts of the budget.
Senator Jennifer Flanagan tried an alternative method to regulate iGaming in 2014. She filed SB 101, a bill that would have authorized iLottery sales. The bill also gave the lottery permission to expand into other areas of iGaming, including online poker. Sadly, this measure never left committee.
Senator Tarr quietly filed another bill in 2015 to regulate online poker but it received so little attention that the poker community didn’t even learn about it late in the year. It now appears that the fate of iPoker may hinge on legislation intended to regulate Daily Fantasy Sports.
The MGC has recently given their support for a potential omnibus online gambling bill. Lawmakers in the state are eager to find a solution regarding the legality of Daily Fantasy Sports. Some are interested in just regulating the activity, but some feel that the state should just adopt an omnibus bill that would give the MGC the ability to regulate or reject new forms of iGaming as they come up.
Such a bill would essentially regulate online poker and give state casinos the option to offer the activity. Until a better option arises, the omnibus bill may be the states only option to regulate online poker in the near future.
Will PokerStars Be Granted a License to Offer Online Poker in Massachusetts?
Based on developments surrounding PokerStars in 2015, we believe that it is likely that the company will be allowed to operate in Massachusetts once online poker is finally regulated.
Up until 2015, PokerStars and bad actors were a major point of contention among states considering online poker regulation. Nevada has actually banned PokerStars for a period of five years based on their acceptance of bets from U.S. players following the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006.
California is another state that has been at odds with allowing PokerStars to operate in the United States because of their post-UIGEA activity. New Jersey originally put PokerStars’ application for a license on hold in 2014 due to continued association with the company’s founder Isai Scheinberg.
In August 2014, PokerStars was sold to the Amaya Gaming Group and many believed that this sale made PokerStars a new company under the Amaya umbrella. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement reopened the PokerStars application in late 2014 and conducted an investigation that too about a year to complete.
In September 2015, the NJ DGE determined that PokerStars was indeed a new company under the Amaya umbrella and thus awarded them a transactional waiver to operate iGaming in the state.
Even before the DGE’s decision, attitudes towards bad actors and PokerStars had begun to soften. However, following the decision by the NJ DGE to grant a license to PokerStars, many consider the bad actor issues a moot point.
Once online gambling is regulated in Massachusetts, expect PokerStars to be granted a license. By the time the state regulates online gambling, PokerStars should be operational in at least New Jersey and lawmakers will be able to properly gauge whether the company is a proper fit.
Realistically, we can see a point in the future of U.S. iGaming where inclusion of PokerStars will be a necessity rather than a luxury. It is likely that they will be a major part of the interstate network and may end up being the primary provider in the future.
Which Online Poker Sites Will Operate Once Massachusetts Regulates Online Poker?
Due to the size of Massachusetts, we think that the market will be smaller than other states. In fact, it is possible you may only see two or three providers offering both general casino gambling and online poker in Massachusetts.
Below we take a brief look at which brands we expect to offer online poker in Massachusetts.
Presently, WSOP.com operates in two of the three regulated states in the United States. As an extension of Caesars Entertainment, WSOP.com enjoys success because they of their connection to the World Series of Poker.
While it is true that Massachusetts does not have a Caesars property, there is still an outside chance that WSOP.com operates in the state. The site offers a robust spread of cash games and some of the best online poker tournaments in the industry. It is also the only place where you can play your way into the World Series of Poker.
If WSOP.com doesn’t operate in Massachusetts, then expect 888 Poker to operate in the state either as a standalone site or as the All-American Poker Network. 888 Holdings presently has offerings in every regulated state and is the backbone of the interstate online poker network.
Due to their history in online poker, both in the U.S. and globally, we expect at least one property to partner with 888 Poker. If the state decides to pursue interstate compacts, the inclusion of 888 Holdings is almost a given as they are the only site that presently offers the option of an interstate network.
PartyPoker is one site that we put on the bubble as an operator in Massachusetts. While they have enjoyed success in NJ, Massachusetts may not be quit large enough to support more than three online poker sites. If we’re proven wrong, then PartyPoker will probably become the #4 site in the state.
PartyPoker is one of the most recognized brands in the world and offers a solid spread of online poker tournaments. Their promotions are also among the best and players can enjoy cross-platform compatibility.
PokerStars has the best software, the largest games on the planet and we believe that they will be the future of internet gambling in the United States. Should PokerStars be operating in NJ, PA and CA by the time that MA regulates online poker, expect PokerStars to become the interstate network provider.