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Online Poker Will Likely Not Be Criminalized in Final Massachusetts Bill

Language Amended to Reflect Poker Players’ Concerns


Online poker will not be illegal in Massachusetts.This time, the Poker Players Alliance waited until it was official.

After the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved an amendment that struck out controversial language regarding online poker in the state’s gambling expansion bill, the PPA let out a sigh of relief and thanked both its members and the elected officials who made the changes happen.

“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,” said John Pappas, the PPA’s executive director.

Pappas is referring to the swarms of phone calls and e-mails poker players in the state directed toward their representatives, which was so strong that their offices eventually told the organization to “call off the dogs,” according to the PPA.

The controversy began after poker players discovered that a bill aimed to get land-based casinos into Massachusetts contained language that would have seemingly criminalized online poker with a fine up to $25,000 and a maximum jail time of two years.

The language mirrored a section of a 2008 Massachusetts bill that failed to gain traction, and the PPA had been working to make sure that this year’s bill — which is expected to become law — removed the controversial language.

After receiving assurances from state legislators that they wouldn’t include that section, the PPA released a statement earlier this month, saying, “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.”

Unfortunately, the organization was shocked to see the language still included in the bill when it became public. It appears, however, that the inclusion of the controversial language was more of an oversight than a devious effort to sneak it through.

When notified of the problem by several of their poker-playing constituents, state representatives said that the language would be stricken from the bill in a technical corrections amendment.

And that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday. State Representative Brian Dempsey introduced the amendment that removed the penalties for online poker, and the House approved it. The PPA says it continues to work with another state representative, Brian Wallace, on a bill that would officially declare poker a game of skill in the state.

“On behalf of poker players in Massachusetts and nationwide, I’d like to thank Representative Dempsey for his effort to remove the criminalization language from the gaming bill, as well as Representative Wallace for his continued support,” said Pappas. “We will now focus our efforts on the Massachusetts Senate to include the skill language into the bill and to ensure the criminalization provision stays out of the final package.”