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Massachusetts

In 2012, Massachusetts seemed to be on the fast track towards iGaming legislation. Lawmakers had recently approved an expanded gaming act that would be see the construction of three resort casinos and one slot parlor [1]. And shortly thereafter, State rep. Dan Winslow would begin making a push for regulated Internet gambling.

But times have changed. Due to the saturation of the East Coast’s casino market, which has already caused mass closures and revenue declines in Atlantic City, and a barrage of resistance from anti-gambling proponents in Massachusetts, the state’s live gambling future is suddenly very much in doubt.

Things aren’t faring much better on the iGaming front. Despite multiple attempts to insert language into broader bills, there has yet to be an amendment that has gained the favor of government.

Can Players from Massachusetts Play Real-Money Online Poker?

Although there is no one law that explicitly addresses online poker, Massachusetts takes a firm stance against both players and operators that participate in unregulated gambling activities. To date, online poker is not regulated by the state.

Compare this to the situation in Europe, where poker websites are not subject to such stringent laws.

Is Online Poker Legal in Massachusetts?

With regards to illicit gambling, Massachusetts is one of the more intolerant states in the nation, with both operators and players subject to harsh penalties.

Massachusetts gambling statues make it abundantly clear that playing poker out in a public environment is a prosecutable offense; Chapter 271, Section 2:

Whoever, in public conveyance or public place, or in a private place upon which he is trespassing, plays at cards, dice or any other game for money or other property, or bets on the sides or hands of those playing, shall forfeit not more than fifty dollars or be imprisoned for not more than three months; and whoever sets up or permits such a game shall be punished by a fine of not less than fifty nor more than one hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not less than three nor more than twelve months.

The allusion to cards renders playing the game of poker in public a measurable crime, regardless of whether skill or chance is the predominant factor. Players who gamble in a betting house are subject to similar penalties, as are those who own a gaming device.

Now that we’ve touched upon publicly played games, what about private, non-raked poker games? Does the specific use of the word public indicate that private games are permissible? Not explicitly, but the statue does appear on some level to protect players who participate in social gambling activities.

The law is much clearer regarding those who profit from running larger scale gambling operations – $10,000 and up to 15 fifteen years behind bars clearer. That’s up there among the severest penalties we’ve seen.

Massachusetts’ list of gambling penalties goes on and on, covering everything from gambling at cattle shows to the legality of antique slot machines, but the end result is always the same – if it’s unregulated, it’s illegal.

Although Massachusetts’ outdated statutes make no mention of Internet poker, they do address wagering that takes place over the telephone, Chapter 271: Section 17A:

Whoever uses a telephone or, being the occupant in control of premises where a telephone is located or a subscriber for a telephone, knowingly permits another to use a telephone so located or for which he subscribes…for the purpose of accepting wagers or bets…shall be punished by a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year.

In our estimation, players from Massachusetts are better off sticking to legal poker activities until such time that a legal poker facility is erected or an Internet poker bill is passed. Of course, for full clarity regarding the state’s gambling statutes, we advise you to speak with a legal professional.

For more on Massachusetts’ state code, please visit the “References” section [2].

Legislation Timeline

  • November 22, 2011 – Governor Patrick signs H. 3807, An Act Establishing Expanded Gaming in the Commonwealth, into law. The bill permits the construction of four gambling facilities in the Bay State.
  • April, 2012 – State Rep. Daniel Winslow (R-Norfolk) introduces a budget amendment that would allow for regulated online poker, but it ultimately fails to push through.
  • April, 2013 – Amendment #365 is introduced mere weeks ahead of the House’s budget, calling once again for the legalization of online poker – only this time the amendment would limit the number of iPoker rooms to three and forbid so-called bad actors (gaming companies that operated in the United States post-UIGEA) from participating [3]. It too would fail.
  • Late-May, 2013 – A group of Republican State Senators attempt to attach an iPoker amendment to the Senate’s budget. The amendment calls for up to four online gambling licenses; presumably one for each MA-based commercial casino. Despite generating some interest, the amendment would not be included in the budget.
  • July 18, 2013 – State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr’s S.1826 – an iGaming proposal designed as an amendment to a transportation bill – is rejected.
  • April, 2014 – James McHugh of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission confirms that online gambling is a serious effort but that an iGaming bill will not pass in this session. [4]

Massachusetts Gambling History

Whereas most pre-Revolutionary War colonies integrated lotteries and other forms of gambling into their culture, Massachusetts residents were indoctrinated with Puritanical dogmas which preached the belief that gambling was the devil’s work. By the 1800s, Massachusetts anti-gambling sentiments grew so fierce that it would assist other states in the fight against gambling expansion.

But during the height of the Great Depression, Massachusetts’ opposition to gambling was superseded by its need for an alternative revenue source. And by 1934 the State Racing Commission was established, and with it the construction of Suffolk Downs began.

Suffolk Downs continues to host live thoroughbred racing and simulcasting. And in late-2013, the facility forged an agreement with Mohegan Sun to develop a world-class casino on its grounds [5].

In a true display of irony, in 1971 Massachusetts would become one of the first states to authorize a legal statewide lottery. Charitable gambling is also permissible within its boundaries. But until 2011, prior attempts to legalize commercial casinos fell on deaf ears. That all changed with the passage of the Expanded Gaming Act in 2011, which authorized the construction of three Vegas style casinos and one slot facility.

Regulated Gambling Options in Massachusetts

On paper, Massachusetts’ palate of gambling options is as diversified as say New Jersey’s. But the reality is that not a single casino has opened its doors to the public. This is somewhat likely to change in the near future, but until then, the Bay State’s residents will have to get by purchasing lottery tickets, frequenting licensed charitable gambling facilities or placing bets at Suffolk Downs. Either that, or drive down to Connecticut.

Greyhound racing was previously legal in Massachusetts, but voters chose to ban it, effective January 1, 2010 [6].

Other recent headlines

A fierce debate has broken out in Massachusetts over whether to uphold the Expanded Gambling Act. Nearly two years after the law was passed, a group of concerned taxpayers banded together to form RepealtheCasinoDeal.org, with the goal of collecting enough signatures to pursue a question on the November 2014 ballot.

The group would ultimately meet its initial goal in June 2014 when the state’s Supreme Judicial Court would rule in favor of a repeal referendum that will allow voters to decide whether or not the Act will stand [7]. Suddenly, the fate of Massachusetts future in the live casino arena is unclear.

But that hasn’t necessarily stopped casino licensees from abandoning their projects. Case in point: Penn National Gaming has announced its intention to keep pressing on with the construction of a $225 million slot parlor at Plainridge Racecourse [8].

The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in Massachusetts

As late as March 2014, Massachusetts was believed to be one of the leading candidates for a concentrated iGaming push. These days, the outlook isn’t quite as clear. What we do know is that MA will definitely not pass iGaming legislation in 2014. That being said, government will continue to seriously explore the issue.

With a population hovering around 6.65 million and exceedingly high tourist rates, Massachusetts is one state that could sustain an intrastate online poker industry. But before that can happen, the state needs to resolve its brick and mortar casino issue. Should Repeal the Casino Deal win the day, the odds that Massachusetts will legalize online poker in 2017 go from a fair possibility to slim to none.

References

  1. Jump up ^ Governor Patrick Signs Expanded Gaming Legislation
  2. Jump up ^ The Commonwealth of Massachusetts – General Laws
  3. Jump up ^ Post UIGEA Operators Prohibited in Latest Massachusetts Online Poker Proposal
  4. Jump up ^ Massachusetts Shelving Online Gambling Plans for 2014
  5. Jump up ^ Suffolk Downs Chooses Mohegan Sun as Partner for Resort Casino in Revere
  6. Jump up ^ It’s the end of the line for greyhound racing in Massachusetts
  7. Jump up ^ Repeal the Casino Deal – News Advisory, June 24, 2014
  8. Jump up ^ Penn National moving ahead with $225 slot parlor