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Massachusetts Bill May Criminalize Online Poker

Bill’s Primary Purpose is to Expand Gambling in the State


Online poker may soon be criminalized in Massachusetts.A bill that is being fast-tracked through the Massachusetts legislature this month would expand gambling in the state, offering two casino licenses for at least $100 million each and four slot-machine licenses for a minimum of $15 million apiece in a move that is expected to raise in the vicinity of $200 to $600 million in annual revenue for the state.

Casinos in Massachusetts? While it may sound like a dream come true for many poker players in the state, there is unfortunately one section in the legislation that is making more than a few poker advocates extremely worried.

Section 36 (v) of the 172-page bill appears to explicitly criminalize all forms of Internet gambling, including online poker.

The Poker Players Alliance has worked with Massachusetts legislators in the past to try to remove such language from potential gambling bills, and the organization seemed confident that language would not make it into this bill, even releasing a positive public statement in preparation of the bill’s introduction.

“The Massachusetts Casino bill, which in the past contained language that would criminalize online poker play (and other online gaming), with prison time and fines of up to $25,000, was re-introduced today in the state house. Due to the great work of our State Director, MA lobbying team and the tremendous effort of our grassroots network, we successfully kept the criminalization language out of this new bill,” Bryan Spadaro of the PPA wrote on April 1 in an online forum.

Unfortunately, when the actual bill appeared, the language in question remained.

Section 36 (v) states: “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 of equipment or other medium of communication, or knowingly installs or maintains said device or equipment for the transmission or receipt of wagering information shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail of house of correction for not more than 2 years, or by a fine of not more than $25,000, or both such fine and imprisonment.”

Massachussetts' new bill may be good for live poker, but devastating for online poker.PPA Executive Director John Pappas quickly corrected the error, writing: “Well, the PPA maybe spoke too soon on this. After receiving several assurances from lawmakers that the criminalization language would not be in there, and being told by the author of the bill today that it was not, our lobbyist shared the good news.”

Pappas promised to “get to the bottom of this,” in a statement on April 1, but as of today, the organization has not yet released an official statement on the situation.

The chances of this specific gambling bill becoming law in Massachusetts are pretty favorable. Polls show that most residents in the state support expanded gambling in the state, and while there are certainly a large number of anti-gambling advocates, the need for revenue might be enough to get the necessary votes.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo introduced the bill last week, and the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies approved the measure by a 12-2 vote. The legislation will now go to the House Ways and Means Committee before going to the Massachusetts House floor.