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Massachusetts remains a strong candidate to states to join the list of states that offer regulated online gambling. The path to legal online poker and casinos in Massachusetts, however, remains a long and challenging one.
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It looks like Massachusetts will take a “wait and see” approach to online gambling. This is due to several more pressing issues related to gambling:
Ultimately, MA should make progress in 2019 and beyond. The fact that the state can now legalize sports betting thanks to the US Supreme Court should advance gaming discussions in the statehouse.
Massachusetts first explored online poker expansion when it was working on its brick-and-mortar casino expansion bill back in 2010. Back then the state was considering prohibiting online poker. The prohibition of online poker never caught on during the casino debate and fell by the wayside.
Resurrection of the debate took place in 2012 and 2013 when State Treasurer Steve Grossman and State Senator Bruce Tarr started making the case for a legal online lottery and online gambling in the Bay State.
Despite the introduction of several bills, lawmakers had shown only mild interest in the matter. In fact, the crowning moment for Massachusetts wasn’t the introduction of bill. Instead it was the hosting of a day-long educational forum by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in 2014.
With Grossman losing in the 2014 Gubernatorial primary and not seeking reelection as Treasurer, and the state still trying to iron out it’s brick-and-mortar casinos, Massachusetts wasn’t expected to make a huge push for online gaming in 2015. That changed when daily fantasy sports became the hot topic.
DFS regulatory talk began in late 2015. It may have opened the door for online gaming legalization talk to pick back up.
Even though online gaming legalization received only a cursory mention at the tail end of 2015, the stage was set for the state to give it a look in 2016.
And just like that, suddenly Massachusetts was back in the running for online gaming.
In August 2016, Gov. Baker signed H 4569. This bill formally legalized fantasy sports in Massachusetts through July 31, 2018. That sunset was indefinitely postponed thereafter.
Fantasy sports operators are legally permitted to offer real-money contests, as long as they adhere to the regulations set forth by AG Maura Healey earlier that year. This is a temporary measure until they craft permanent regulations.
Around the same time, lawmakers began taking a more in-depth look at both online lottery and online gambling.
Online lottery made the lion’s share of the progress. A bill, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in July.
Later in the session, the bill was repackaged as an amendment to an economic development bill, S 2423. Both the amendment, and the bill itself, would pass in the Senate. But ultimately, the bill stalled in the House, despite strong consideration.
Flanagan would begin her online lottery push anew early in the 2017 session.
Online gambling also received its fair shake. But in terms of actual legislative progress, only one critical step was taken.
As part of the fantasy sports bill passed in August, there was the creation of a special legislative panel. The aim was to study, explore and suggest regulations for DFS and online gambling. The newly minted Massachusetts Special Commission on Online Gaming, Fantasy Sports Gaming and Daily Fantasy Sports met in November, to discuss among other things, whether the legislature should consider an omnibus approach to DFS, online poker and online casino.
With Grossman losing in the 2014 Gubernatorial primary and not seeking reelection as Treasurer, and the state still ironing out its brick-and-mortar casinos, Massachusetts wasn’t expected to make a huge push for online gaming in 2015. That changed when daily fantasy sports became the hot topic.
DFS regulatory talk began in late 2015 and may have opened the door for online gaming legalization talk to pick back up.