Candidates For Online Gambling Legalization: Massachusetts Making Progress

March 15, 2017
Candidates For Online Gambling Legalization: Massachusetts Making Progress

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles on the prospects for online gambling around the US.  (Part one here.)

US Poker has selected its five best candidates for online gaming legalization in 2017.

They are (in no particular order):

  1. California
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Michigan
  4. New York
  5. Pennsylvania

In this series, we’ll look at each state one by one:

  • How it got to this point
  • Break down the current legislation in consideration
  • Handicap the chances of online gambling passing in 2017

Next up is Massachusetts, where a serious push to authorize the sale of online lottery products is afoot, as well as a growing effort to legalize online gambling.

Top-line diagnosis for Massachusetts online gaming

Once seen as one of the most anti-gambling states in the country Massachusetts has been able to flip the script. The state legalized casinos in 2011. Now, it’s now seen as one of the more progressive states when it comes to legalizing and regulating emergent gaming products.

Massachusetts’ new role as a first-mover on gaming is evidenced by the state being one of the first to address daily fantasy sports, which it legalized and regulated in 2016.

Massachusetts also came close to authorizing lottery sales in 2016 when an online lottery bill passed the Senate before running out of time in the House.

But that doesn’t mean observers should expect Massachusetts to tackle online gaming willy-nilly.

Old habits die hard, and Massachusetts tends to take a careful and deliberate approach to issues like gambling. That being said, there is a real push by lawmakers, elected officials and the state’s gaming commission to act on online gambling (poker, casino and lottery) sooner rather than later.

A short history of online gaming efforts in Massachusetts

Massachusetts started flirting with online gambling legalization soon after passing its casino bill in 2011. But for the most part, the state was content with stealing a few furtive glances from behind a book rather than any overt courtship.

That started to change a few years ago.

In 2014, the state held a day-long online gaming forum that firmly established the state as “one to watch” moving forward. Since then, multiple online gambling bills have been proposed and introduced in the Bay State.

Because of the publicity for DFS, efforts really picked up in 2016.

First, the state was quick to respond to the daily fantasy sports issue that arose in late 2015. Even before the legislature passed last year’s DFS law, state Attorney General Maura Healey deemed DFS not gambling and issued regulations to oversee the industry.

Second, legislation to authorize an online lottery made a late-session push, before failing to reach the finish line.

There was also some progress on the online poker and online casino fronts. That was thanks in large part to the state’s DFS action.

When Massachusetts legalized daily fantasy sports in 2016, it also mandated a study panel to explore DFS and online gambling regulation. The 2016 DFS bill uses temporary regulations that sunset after two years.

Massachusetts’s current online gambling legislation

The study panel has been assembled and will submit its findings and recommendations for DFS and online gambling regulations on or before July 31.

Online lottery is also being revisited. Sen. Jennifer Flanagan renewed her efforts to authorize the sale of lottery products this year, a move being backed by State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg.

Additionally, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr introduced an online gambling bill in January, but it’s unlikely to gain much traction until the study panel submits its findings. Tarr was one of the people tasked with appointing a member of the study panel. Tarr chose his legal counsel, Hirak Shah.

2017 prognosis

Generally speaking, gaming proposals progress along a linear path. That means online lottery legalization is more probable than not in Massachusetts.

However, online gambling legalization will likely require a number of other pieces to fall into place to pass this year.

The findings and recommendations of the study panel will be an important component. But because of the late deadline, even a favorable report might not be acted upon until 2018. (The panel needs to report to the legislature by the end of July, and the legislature usually adjourns by August.)

Online gambling could be prodded along by action in other states. No matter what, it seems Massachusetts no longer wants to be among the final arrivals on gaming issues.

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