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Despite a new push, Massachusetts seems to be conflicted when it comes to online gaming.
There were several drives in recent years to pass online gaming legislation, but more recent reports coming out of the Commonwealth indicate lawmakers will be waiting until the state’s brick & mortar casino industry is up and running before moving on to tackling online poker.
But now the matter seems to be up for debate once again.
In recent weeks there have been multiple indications, both from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the State Lottery Commission that the Bay State may push forward with some type of online gaming bill.
Here is what you need to know about it.
The relatively new Massachusetts Gaming Commission already has a lot on its plate, considering it must oversee the building of three Massachusetts resort casinos and develop a regulatory model for the state.
In addition to this, the MCG is apparently also willing to listen to arguments on potentially expanding into online gaming.
During a January 9th hearing, and in between a five hour discussion concerning the land-based casino projects that are currently in flux, the MGC made arrangements to host a panel to discuss online gambling in the Commonwealth.
On Page 81 of the recent Commissioners Packet (something along the lines of a reading of the minutes from the meeting) there is an overview of the proposed hearings and panels on online gambling:
In addition to the hearings called for at the MGC meeting, this past week the State Lottery Commission also discussed online gambling, calling on the state legislature to take the first steps towards legalizing online gambling by allowing the Lottery Commission to offer a trial run of online lotteries and perhaps poker or gambling.
The proposed bill SB 101 would allow the State Lottery to experiment with online services.
State Lottery Assistance Executive Director Beth Bresnahan told the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure:
“We are not proposing to offer these games to our players with an actual cash transaction, nor are we seeking any appropriation to fund such operations.
Rather in the interests of preserving and protecting the Lottery, we simply want to ensure that we have a solid understanding of the technology and logistics of online gaming should this market space become more competitive. Existing law does not permit us to conduct such experimentation.”
These developments were music to the ears of online gaming advocates, especially the Poker Players Alliance.
PPA Executive Director John Pappas issued a statement to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure calling on them to at least consider expansion into online gambling.
Pappas’ statement begins by noting that other states are taking similar steps, “[and] recognizing the potential for significant job growth and millions in added revenue…”
He urges Massachusetts to include online poker in any bill that would explore online lottery sales.
Additionally, Pappas told the committee that it was a matter of player safety and regulation:
“Today, in the U.S. and in regulated markets throughout the world, it is required that Internet gaming companies employ ‘best of breed’ technologies that protect minors and problem gamblers, ensure that the games are fair, and that sites block players in prohibited jurisdictions.
These mandatory safeguards are even more restrictive than those employed in brick-and-mortar casinos today.”
The PPA has also been calling on its members to engage in a letter writing and social media campaign, asking Massachusetts lawmakers to get behind SB 101.
Massachusetts was one of the busier bees in 2013, but efforts there failed to produce any honey, as lawmakers came up short in three separate attempts at online gaming expansion.
The first came in the form of an attachment to the state’s budget, which was followed by two separate standalone bills, one that would have allowed online casino games and the other the creation of an online lottery.
The MGC is a five member panel with a chairman and four commissioners:
MGC on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/MassGamingCommission
MCG on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MAGamingComm