Shell iGaming Bill Introduced in Massachusetts

MassachusettsSenator Bruce Tarr has introduced a shell bill that could develop into omnibus legislation for the regulation of online gambling in Massachusetts.

In 2011, the state of Massachusetts passed the Expanded Gaming Act – a law that would allow for three resort casinos and a slot parlor. The development of the casinos was delayed until after a voter-led attempt to repeal the Act narrowly failed in 2014, and only two of the three available licenses have been issued due to competition from a tribal gambling resort in the third designated casino zone.

With regard to the regulation of online gambling in Massachusetts, opinion seems to be divided. Some legislators want to wait and see what impact the resort casinos have on social issues (the casinos are not due to open until 2018 and 2019 respectively), while others believe that the option to provide online gambling would help support the fledgling casinos and generate tax revenues.

Previous Legislative Attempts Have Failed

Despite the divided opinions, there have been attempts to introduce online gambling legislation. The first few failed due to a lack of support from anti-gambling governor Deval Patrick, while later attempts never got past the committee stage because the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was having a pretty good look at incorporating online lottery sales and Daily Fantasy Sports into a single bill.

The omnibus approach has its supporters and detractors. The Chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission – Stephen Crosby – and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr want to move ahead with legislation to avoid neighboring states dominating the online market. However, Attorney General Maura Healey and State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg only want the regulation of online lottery sales and DFS.

Latest Legislative Attempt Light on Detail

The current legislative attempt to regulate online gambling in Massachusetts is a disappointing effort considering the amount of talk that has been going on and the [geolink href=””]publication of a white paper[/geolink] last year that looked like a positive step in the right direction. Senator Tarr´s bill – SD 618 – proposes a Priority Expense Fund into which the proceeds from Internet gambling would be placed and that brick-and-mortar casinos should be able to apply for Internet gaming licenses provided that their operations do not interfere with online lottery sales or resemble slot machines.

There are no references to licensing regulations or fees, taxes or player protection. The complete text of the bill is fewer than 200 words and, although it is likely to be beefed out in the coming months, is no more than a place-holder for future proposals to be added. The proposals imply that any operator wishing to provide online gambling in Massachusetts will have to team up with an existing brick-and-mortar casino. The condition that they will not be able to provide slot games is a nod to a ballot measure last November in which voters rejected a proposal to license a second slots parlor.

Another Positive Step, but Will It Go Anywhere?

Although light on detail, the fact that a bill has been introduced is another step in the right direction for online gambling in Massachusetts. Whether it will go anywhere is anybody´s guess. Ultimately we will have to wait and see how the bill is beefed out, what fees and rates of taxation are applied, and what protection is offered to online gamblers. It will likely be several months before we find out how the bill develops and the amount of support it gathers in the committee stage.

What we do know is that there is not the degree of opposition to online gambling in Massachusetts as exists in other states. California, Pennsylvania and Michigan each have significant obstacles to overcome that may delay the regulation of online gambling for many years. Although some proponents admit that the first hands of regulated online poker in Massachusetts may not be dealt until 2020, at least the introduction of an online gambling bill will keep the conversation flowing.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett