The latest version of a bill licensing gambling in Massachusetts once again includes a measure criminalizing internet gambling and online poker. Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo is calling for a vote on the measure, which he introduced on Thursday, in two weeks.
Luckily for online poker players in the Commonwealth, a bevy of groups and individuals have come out against the bill, including Governor Deval Patrick, according to the Boston Globe. DeLeo does not plan to hold a public hearing on his legislation, leading Patrick to tell the Boston media outlet, “I know people have thought about these issues before, but it’s a very important decision for the Commonwealth. There are people who have strong feelings on all sides of it and we should do our work here out in the open. We should have a hearing and let people make their case.”
DeLeo countered that hearings have already been held on the topic and “everything has been studied thoroughly.” As part of the bill, two Massachusetts casino licenses will be issued, each with a price tag of $100 million. In addition, four slot machine licenses will be awarded for $15 million each. A bundle of jobs would be created and “gambling revenue would be directed toward community colleges, tourism programs, schools, and the state’s rainy day fund,” according to the Globe. In addition, the Massachusetts police force would be expanded to oversee the new industry.
Scaring online poker players and internet gambling aficionados in Massachusetts is text found on page 123 of the 172-page bill. It 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 penalty is a hefty one, up to two years behind bars and a fine of up to $25,000.
The aforementioned text applies to “any person who, from within the Commonwealth, transmits a wager to, or receives a wager from, another person or gaming establishment within or outside of the Commonwealth.” The only exemption to the rule is law enforcement officials policing internet gambling. Among those purportedly backing the measure are the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
An ongoing squabble over the introduction of slot machines may be the ace in the hole for online poker players. The Globe quoted Patrick as saying that slot machines do not provide job opportunities like full-fledged casinos do. Slot machines would be introduced at four racetracks in Massachusetts, which employ a combined 664 people. DeLeo worries that the tracks will close if new slot machine revenue is not provided.
On poker forums like TwoPlusTwo, speculation grew as to why DeLeo’s legislation would criminalize online poker in a similar fashion to the state of Washington. Poster “bluemage55” noted, “The B&M casinos of Massachusetts want to cut down on competition with online gambling. That’s why you see it as an add-on to casino bills: the same people who advocate for casinos are against online gambling.” Also weighing in was “Scary_Tiger,” who hypothesized, “If the owners of Chili’s threw enough money at politicians, could they make eating at T.G.I. Friday’s a felony? Just seems crazy.”
In February, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), the poker industry’s main lobbying voice, testified in front of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies to urge classifying poker as a game of skill. The PPA boasts more than 25,000 members in Massachusetts and a similar presentation by the grassroots organization took place last October.
The Boston Herald called DeLeo’s legislation “merely the starting point.” The Commonwealth would reap 25% of the casino revenue and 40% of the slot machine revenue derived from the bill. Read the full text of DeLeo’s Massachusetts gambling legislation.