On Tuesday, a casino gaming bill in Massachusetts proposed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo will be debated. The measure includes text that criminalizes internet gambling and online poker.
The saving grace for the online poker community may be several amendments that seek to strike the controversial language from the bill. The industry seemed to be out of the woods entirely last Tuesday, when Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Kentucky State Director Rich “TheEngineer” Muny posted on PocketFives.com and TwoPlusTwo, “Great news! I just received confirmation that the anti-poker language will be stricken in a technical corrections package as soon as this Friday. We’ve also been asked to ‘call off the dogs.’ It seems our blast was eliciting a lot of calls and emails.” Muny serves on the Board of Directors of the PPA and is widely considered to be one of the industry’s foremost legislative authorities. However, the PPA did not announce that a technical corrections package had been incorporated.
When asked for confirmation that the language criminalizing internet poker had been scratched from DeLeo’s proposal, PPA Executive Director John Pappas told Poker News Daily, “We have received commitments that the language will be stricken or amended as not to affect poker. At least three amendments have been filed to correct this when the House begins debate on Tuesday. I feel good that one of these amendments will prevail, but I don’t want to claim victory until it does.” The PPA boasts more than 25,000 members in the Commonwealth.
According to the Boston Globe, 216 amendments to DeLeo’s proposal had been filed as of Friday. Given the influx of ideas, DeLeo told the Globe that fellow lawmakers had “raised some ideas that we’ll take a second look at… [a] tweak here or a tweak there. I’m not sure there will be any major changes in the legislation.” Whether differentiating online poker from internet gambling or eliminating the malicious language entirely constitutes a “major change” remains to be seen.
The 216 amendments span the gamut of land-based gambling issues. According to the Globe, Representative Ruth Balser is seeking to add a placard to slot machines explaining their “odds and algorithms.” Meanwhile, Steven D’Amico is advocating greater awareness of outlets for problem gamblers. Also deeply concerned about the pending legislation is Representative Cory Atkins. The Globe noted that Atkins submitted several suggestions: “She filed amendments regulating pheromones, ATM withdrawals, clocks, and parking lot attendants because she is worried about gamblers going too far.”
One week ago, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies approved DeLeo’s bill. The language that has the entire community up in arms simply reads, “Any person who knowingly transmits or receives a wager of any type by any telecommunication device, including telephone, cellular phone, internet, [or] local area network… or knowingly installs or maintains said device or equipment for the transmission or receipt of wagering information shall be punished.” The cost of playing online poker is up to two years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.
DeLeo’s bill calls for two full-fledged casinos to be built. In addition, slot machines would be installed at existing Massachusetts racetracks. Governor Deval Patrick is purportedly against slot machine expansion on the grounds that it does not bring in additional jobs and could veto the bill even if it is approved by Massachusetts lawmakers. As is the case on Capitol Hill, a veto override requires a two-thirds vote.
Also a point of contention is where the new casinos will be located. Several lawmakers have filed amendments calling for specific cities to be their homes. Three days of debate are scheduled. Stay tuned to Poker News Daily for the latest from Massachusetts.