Massachusetts is duly prepared for omnibus gambling expansion

Reading the Signs: Will Massachusetts Legalize Online Gambling in 2019?

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This is the second part in an ongoing OPR series outlining the states most likely to pass online gambling and/or sports betting legislation in 2019. This time: A case for Massachusetts.

Massachusetts ignored the siren song of gambling for many years. Once it dipped its toe in, however, it took the full plunge.

Following the legalization of casino gambling in 2011, the Bay State has been involved in discussions surrounding online gambling, sports betting and daily fantasy sports (DFS).

Massachusetts was one of the first states to legalize DFS back in 2016. Other forms of expansion have been broached several times and are likely to be back on the table this year.

There’s already some talk of an omnibus approach, which would be the best approach for the state.

Massachusetts has done the legwork

Of all the states considering expanded gambling, Massachusetts is perhaps the best-equipped to get it right. Few others have devoted more time and energy to studying the issue.

If any state is prepared to legalize and regulate, Massachusetts is.

Forward-thinking regulators

Also working in Massachusetts’ favor is a gaming commission that’s built on transparency and mitigating the harms of gambling.

The MGC has been applauded for its thoughtful approach to gambling and willingness to challenge the status quo. As a prime example, it implemented two responsible gaming pilot programs at Massachusetts casinos.

The agency is somewhat in flux following the September resignation of its first and only chairman, Stephen Crosby.

Still, the MGC is considered one of the top regulatory bodies in gambling. It has overcome the tumult of that surprising resignation and continued the positive progress it made during Crosby’s tenure.

The clock is ticking for Massachusetts

Massachusetts has already lost its chance to be a regional first-mover.

Legalize and regulate?

Massachusetts has been considered online gambling and online lottery legalization going back as far as 2013. The closest it came to passage was an online lottery bill that cleared the Senate in 2016 before dying in the House.

The lack of a law does not stem from a lack of effort, nor a lack of advocates.

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has repeatedly cautioned that Massachusetts’ lottery revenue will erode if online sales aren’t authorized.

During his tenure, Crosby had long advocated for an omnibus approach to gaming legalization. The former director often said that the best approach is a comprehensive approach — one that casts a wide net over gambling and gives regulators the nimbleness they need to deal with new and emerging products.

“What difference does it make as a matter of public policy whether you gamble on the throw of dice or the throw of a dart,” Crosby said in a 2016 interview. “Does it make any difference that one is skillful and one is pure chance? Should they be regulated any [differently]? I just don’t get that.”

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Omnibus expansion makes the most sense

Massachusetts is going to seriously consider online sports betting this year. And every reason to legalize online sports betting is a reason to legalize other forms of online gambling, too.

  • Shifting customers from black markets to legal markets
  • Adding much-needed consumer protections
  • Strengthening existing gambling operations with new, modern products
  • Creating new revenue streams and jobs in the state
  • Improving research and funding for problem gambling

Furthermore, the products would utilize the same oversight. Both industries would require:

  • Age and identity verification procedures
  • Anti-money laundering protocols
  • Responsible gaming policies
  • Third-party audits and verification of fund segregation

Legalizing online gambling alongside sports betting and online lottery makes all the sense in the world. Whether Massachusetts does it, however, is another question.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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