Massachusetts Online Poker Regulation Back on the Radar

MassachusettsLast week´s meeting of Massachusetts´ Special Commission for Online Gaming and Daily Fantasy Sports has put the Bay State back on the radar for regulation.

Towards the end of last year, a flurry of activity in the Bay State led several industry observers ([geolink href=””]including us[/geolink]) to speculate that Massachusetts could be the next state to regulate online poker. Proposals were drawn up that suggested an [geolink href=””]omnibus igaming solution[/geolink] was on the way, and a Special Commission was formed to study online gambling and report back to the legislature.

In August, a temporary law came into effect regulating Daily Fantasy Sports, provided that operators offer the product within certain guidelines. Operators are not charged license fees or required to pay taxes on their profits, and the law expires in July 2018. By then, a more permanent solution should be in place – a solution that may include the regulation of online poker.

Special Commission Holds its First Meeting

With DFS operator DraftKings being headquartered in Boston, and there being talk of a merger between DraftKings and FanDuel, the focus of the first meeting was Daily Fantasy Sports. Because of the jobs at stake should the merged company move out of Boston and into New York, regulators are keen to develop regulations that will appeal to the enlarged company should the merger proceed.

Co-chair of the Commission – Joseph Wagner – explained the purpose of the meeting to the Lowell Sun:

We codified statutorily the standing of daily fantasy sports operations as legal entities but with a sunset provision. It’s the hope that the work of this commission and whatever product, and perhaps legislative product, may come from it will provide guidance going forwar.

When asked about online gambling, Lowell said it is a subject that captures the attention of the public and policymakers, and the Commission was going to give it a pretty good look. The Commission – a mixture of Senators, Representatives and the Chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission – are scheduled to meet every four to six weeks and report back to the legislature by the end of July 2017.

Online Poker Not High on the Agenda

The Chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission – Steve Crosby – has said in the past that he sees the Special Commission as an opportunity to deal with both Daily Fantasy Sports and the regulation of online gambling. However the Bay State has similar issues to New York when it comes to expanding gambling opportunities – politicians are reluctant to move ahead with rxpansion too quickly.

In 2011, Massachusetts passed legislation to allow brick-and-mortar casinos, and politicians on both sides of the legislature have said that they would rather wait and see what effect the new casinos have before passing legislation that would create more gambling opportunities. That would be a blow for proponents of regulated online poker in Massachusetts, as the MGM Springfield is not due to open until 2018, and the Wynn Everett is scheduled to open its doors the following year.

If politicians are already saying that they want to study what effect the new casinos have in the Bay State, it is likely that legislation to regulate online gambling would be kicked down the road (possibly as far as 2020) while the Special Commission deals with the more pressing issue of Daily Fantasy Sport. The legislature also has to consider proposals introduced last week to put the state´s lottery online, and the regulation of online gambling might be a step too far for some conservatives.

While There´s Hope, There´s … … … Hope

Undoubtedly proponents of regulated online poker will say that all the time regulation is on the radar, there is hope of legislation being introduced and passed. However, politicians have been talking about the regulation of online gambling in Massachusetts for more than three years without anything being achieved. Indeed a bill that would authorize the state lottery to run online games of skill (including online poker) failed to make it past the committee stage when introduced last April.

There are also some fairly strong-willed opponents to the regulation of online gambling. State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg wants any expansion of gambling to be exclusive to the State Lottery, while Attorney General Maura Healey – the author of the current provisions for Daily Fantasy Sports – campaigned for a ballot measure to repeal the 2011 legislation allowing brick and mortar casinos.

[geolink href=””]Online poker regulation in Massachusetts[/geolink] might be back on the radar, but it has a long way to go before it sails into port.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett