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Senator Ignites Debate about iGambling in Massachusetts

Posted on by John Lathram

MassachusettsSenate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr wants the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to issue Internet gambling licenses to the Bay State´s existing casinos.

The debate about Internet gambling in Massachusetts has been simmering ever since the Bay State passed legislation in 2011 to allow three brick and mortar casinos and a slots parlor.

It was acknowledged at the time – and has been frequently since – that hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents are gambling online, and that the state could benefit from this untapped source of income if regulation was introduced.

Indeed, Internet gambling legislation was almost sneaked through UIGEA-style when a licensing proposal was attached to a 2013 transport bill. Unfortunately former Governor Deval Patrick – an opponent of gambling in any form – vetoed the bill and the licensing proposal has sat on the shelf ever since.

Patrick Gone – But No Progress Made in 2015

Governor Patrick stepped down in January 2015 and was replaced by fantasy sports-playing Charlie Baker. With Baker in the hot seat, there was optimism that Internet gambling legislation introduced would actually see the light of day.

Senator Michael Rush introduced Bill S.191 in April – proposals that would allow the lottery commission to issue licenses for skill based games such a daily fantasy sports and online poker. The Bill was limited in its ambitions and, possibly because of this, did not progress out of committee stage.

There is also likely to be opposition to Internet gambling proposals from the state treasurer – Deborah Goldberg – who seems more interested in brick and mortar lottery sales than opening up new revenue streams, and Attorney General Maura Healey who campaigned for a referendum amendment to repeal the 2011 legislation permitting three casinos.

Tarr Doesn´t Want the Bay State Casinos to be Undermined

Massachusetts is geographically situated between some casino-heavy states, and adjacent to two states likely to pass Internet gambling legislation in the near future – Pennsylvania and New York. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr has raised concerns that the revenues generated by the Bay State casinos could be undermined by the inability to offer Internet gambling.

Explaining his plans for internet gambling in Massachusetts, Tarr said that only the three existing brick and mortar casinos would be provided with licenses to offer Internet casino gambling and online poker. There would be no provision for online daily fantasy sports – the legality of which is already being scrutinized by the Attorney General´s office.

Supporters of Tarr´s proposals for online gambling in Massachusetts say that they would help the state´s fledgling casino industry in an already saturated market. By regulating Internet gambling in Massachusetts, the millions of dollars that are already being spent at offshore sites would go to the brick and mortar casinos, who would then provide increased tax revenues for state and local governments.

Casino Operators Divided about Internet Gambling

Tarr´s proposals make perfect sense. Regulate Internet gambling in Massachusetts so that players are protected, the casino industry is supported and the state gets some much-needed revenue. But according to Chris Moyer – a spokesman for the American Gaming Association – not all of the three casinos are in support of Tarr´s proposals.

Moyer told the Newburyport News that some casinos are keen to tap into the online revenue stream and attract more customers to their brick and mortar operations. Others, (and I am guessing Steve Wynn´s Everett Resort) fear cannibalization and that fewer visitors to their casino will also mean that less money is spent on food, entertainment and other attractions.

Further opposition to Senator Tarr´s proposals was raised by Krystle Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. Ms. Kelly raised concerns that regulated Internet gambling in Massachusetts would make gambling easier and more accessible. Easier and more accessible than it is now Ms. Kelly?

Consequently, although Senator Tarr´s proposals are justifiable – and would not introduce extortionate tax rates that may cripple Internet gambling – it looks as though Massachusetts is going to join the list of other states that consider Internet gambling legislation, and then find reasons to introduce bad legislation or none at all.

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