A 172-page bill introduced by Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo authorizing construction of two casinos no longer criminalizes internet gambling and online poker. The offensive language was eliminated following a consolidated amendment passed on Tuesday.
House Bill 4591, which has become a point of contentious debate for Massachusetts residents, now includes an amendment that reads in part, “And move to further amend the bill by striking out, in lines 2695 to 2704, inclusive, the following words: (v) Any person who knowingly transmits or receives a wager of any type by any telecommunication device, including telephone, cellular phone, Internet, local area network, including wireless local networks, or any other similar device or equipment… shall be punished.” The penalty for playing online poker of all stakes in the Commonwealth was set to be up to two years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.
More than 60 proposed amendments are cited in the consolidated document. Part of the reason for the success of the passage of the amendment, proposed by State Representative Brian Dempsey, was the force of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). The grassroots lobbying organization sent an e-mail blast to its 25,000-plus members in Massachusetts, who quickly began contacting their local lawmakers. PPA Kentucky State Director Rich “TheEngineer” Muny posted on PocketFives.com last week, “We’ve been asked to ‘call off the dogs.’ It seems our blast was eliciting a lot of calls and emails.”
The Massachusetts State Senate must also approve the bill. Muny commented on PocketFives.com what he foresees the future of the consolidated amendment to be: “The Senate is next. However, as it’s in the technical corrections package, we can all expect easy passage.” The Boston Globe newspaper added that proponents of the bill likely had enough votes to override a potential veto by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who opposes the legislation’s expansion of slot machines on the grounds that they do not create enough additional jobs.
On the outcry of the poker community in Massachusetts, PPA Executive Director John Pappas commented in a press release distributed by the organization on Wednesday, “Of course, the PPA is very pleased that the House-passed gaming bill does not criminalize online poker, but I am even more proud of our members in Massachusetts who really stepped up to the plate on this issue and made their voices heard among the House lawmakers. This was grassroots at its finest.” The PPA added that DeLeo’s proposal could be approved as early as today.
The Globe noted that the Massachusetts House also approved an amendment requiring casinos to purchase slot machines manufactured in the United States. Turned down were amendments mandating that casinos have clocks on their walls, limiting the amount of money dispensed at ATMs, and only permitting casinos in towns with rail service. The measure was not discussed in a public hearing.
Also on the PPA’s plate in Massachusetts is House Bill 4069, proposed by State Representative Brian Wallace. The bill recognizes poker as a skill game, which could effectively prevent the Great American Pastime from being lumped in with casino games and games of chance in the future.
The legislation criminalizing online poker and internet gambling originally appeared two years ago, but never came through to fruition. However, the newest attempt to legalize casinos seems to be on much stronger footing. That didn’t stop opponents to the bill like Ruth Balser, who told the Globe, “We are literally discussing who shall live and who shall die. Who will commit suicide? Who becomes homeless? Whose families will become the victims of domestic abuse? That’s what we’re deciding.”
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