With the 2016 session coming to a close, the Massachusetts legislature managed to pass a bill that ostensibly legalizes daily fantasy sports and calls for the creation of a commission to study DFS and online lottery.
A late push to authorize online lottery sales was removed from the bill in the House after passing the Senate.
H 4569 only ostensibly legalizes DFS because the bill is more or less a two-year placeholder that allows DFS sites to continue operating in the Bay State until July 31, 2018. They can take users in the state as long as they abide by the regulations created by Attorney General Maura Healey.
The two-year window allows the yet-to-be created DFS commission to perform its due diligence and report on its findings. The expectation is the bill will have already been replaced when it sunsets in 2018.
Of course, the bill needs to be signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Are DFS and iLottery legislation the key to online gambling?
With several nearby states all exploring online gambling (and Pennsylvania on the verge of passing an online gambling bill this year), Massachusetts was already a leading candidate for online gambling expansion.
This late-session progress on DFS and online lottery might further open the door for renewed online gambling discussions in the commonwealth.
Massachusetts has a history with online gambling
Massachusetts was among the first states to take a serious look at online gambling legalization beginning in 2013. The state even flirted with an online prohibition in early versions of the state’s casino expansion bill that passed in 2011.
Suffice it to say, online gambling is not a new topic in Massachusetts.
Following early prohibitive efforts, the legislature and other officials have explored online gambling and online lottery several times.
With the passage of online gambling bills in Delaware and New Jersey in early 2013, the Massachusetts legislature took three cracks at passing its own online gambling bill the same year.
The first two occurred during the annual budget talks, when the issue was given consideration, first in the House, and then in the Senate. Both efforts failed.
Later in the session, not dissimilar to how DFS just passed, State Senator Bruce Tarr tried to add online gambling legalization to a transportation bill. This attempt also failed.
The Internet Gambling Forum
These 2013 efforts were followed by even more activity in 2014. In February, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission announced it would hold a daylong Internet Gambling Forum in March. At the same time, the State Lottery Commission proposed legislation that would legalize online gambling.
However, at the same time, lawmakers and members of the MGC were making it clear that the state should get its land-based casino off the ground before moving on to online gambling.
Despite having taken place over two years ago, I still consider the Massachusetts Internet Gambling Forum the best example of educating lawmakers and making the case for legalized online gambling we’ve seen in the US.
You can read my recaps of the forum here:
- Massachusetts Internet Gambling Forum: Panels 1 & 2
- Massachusetts Internet Gambling Forum: Panel 3
- Massachusetts Internet Gambling Forum: Panel 4
- Massachusetts Internet Gambling Forum: Panel 5
Despite the optimism expressed during the forum, it seems as though the “let’s wait for land-based first” crowd won, as online gambling fell by the wayside in 2014 and 2015.
One reason for the state’s regression was because of a political change.
State Treasurer Steve Grossman had been one of the leading advocates for online gambling expansion (in Massachusetts the treasurer oversees the lottery). But he failed in his bid to become governor, and was replaced by what was thought to be an anti-online gambling treasurer, Deborah Goldberg.
But Goldberg has surprised everyone with her recent proclamations that Massachusetts needs to take its lottery online, telling the Boston Globe last month:
“The only way to reach the younger market is via online lottery games,” said state Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who oversees the Lottery Commission. “It’s the future and we need to face it.”
This is a good sign for the future.
What 2017 might hold for Massachusetts
With Goldberg ringing the bell for online lottery, coupled with the flurry of activity in 2016 on daily fantasy sports and online lottery, 2017 could be an interesting year in the Bay State on the online gambling front.
With DFS passing, and online lottery coming awfully close, we might see a renewed push for online gambling legalization in 2017, as it would help Plainridge Park Casino and the under-construction casinos build valuable databases:
- Penn National’s Plainridge Park Casino = Open
- Mashpee Wampanoag’s First Light Casino = Opening fall of 2017
- MGM Springfield = Opening fall of 2018
- Wynn Everett = Opening spring 2019