Massachusetts Official Floats Idea Of ‘Ominbus’ Online Gaming Bill For Fantasy Sports, Poker

December 14, 2015
Massachusetts Official Floats Idea Of ‘Ominbus’ Online Gaming Bill For Fantasy Sports, Poker

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission recently floated the idea of an “omnibus” online gambling bill that would encompass not just daily fantasy sports but also online poker.

The lowdown from the MGC on online poker

The comments from MGC Chairman Stephen Crosby came during an all-day forum on daily fantasy sports. The gaming commission has been studying the daily fantasy sports industry — Boston is the home of DFS operator DraftKings — and what to do with it moving forward.

While Massachusetts attorney General Maura Healey has proposed regulations for the DFS industry, that has not prevented talk of a possible legislative track for DFS in the state. The MGC is endeavoring to create a white paper that would inform legislators on the industry and how it might best be handled by state government.

Crosby apparently sees an intersection with the work the commission is doing on DFS and other forms of internet gaming. Here is what he said, according to Boston Business Journal:

“Would it make sense for the Legislature to try to craft an omnibus regulatory bill for all of these new electronic gaming technologies – because there’s so many of them?” Crosby asked reporters. “If they could craft a bill, which incorporated regulatory priorities, fundamental values, whatever, that could be applied to all of these games – e-sports, [daily fantasy sports], online poker, whatever all the new ones are – maybe then they could give it to some agency to implement, and the agency does the grunt work every six months making it apply to whatever the new technology is.”

Can online poker join the DFS discussion?

This appears to be the first time that the idea of online poker has come up in Massachusetts in the context of DFS.

Daily fantasy sports is tying its legal status to being a game of skill — a designation that online poker has fought for over the years, largely unsuccessfully. Online poker proponents can — and probably will — make the argument that if you’re going to regulate DFS, why not do the same for online poker?

Massachusetts is the latest example of online poker regulation getting a glance from public officials as DFS is considered. Another example is New York, which has both online poker and DFS bills in front of the legislature.

Massachusetts has never seriously considered online poker legalization, but Crosby inserting into the discussion has to be seen as a positive development.

Logistics of dealing with DFS and poker

What an “omnibus” piece of legislation that encompasses online casinos games, online poker and daily fantasy sports might look like is unknown. Crosby implies that such a bill would be intentionally broad and vague, and would leave the specifics up to regulators — perhaps the gaming commission.

Some state legislators have argued that DFS should be treated like other forms of gambling — and put under the same licensing and regulatory structure as online gaming and/or brick and mortar casinos.

However, the industry as it is situated right now — it requires liquidity across state lines and is not a profitable endeavor yet — makes it a poor candidate for the exact same type of regulation as those comps. Ring-fencing DFS only to people within the state of Massachusetts would make it difficult for operators like DraftKings and FanDuel to stay in the market — and even more difficult for smaller operators.

That doesn’t mean, however, that a gaming commission like in Massachusetts couldn’t be in charge of DFS as well, just with a lighter touch or a different structure for licensing fees and/or taxation.

As the MGC — and public officials — continue to ponder the future of DFS in Massachusetts, it’s worth watching whether online poker will become a part of the conversation.

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