Online Gambling in Massachusetts

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The pilgrims established one of the first European settlements in Massachusetts, and the US state boasts one of the oldest education establishments in the New World: Harvard. Its history with gambling is more chequered, though, and wrangling over who can establish a gaming businesses continues to this day.

The Legal Landscape

The gambling market in Massachusetts may be behind the likes of New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada, but things are rapidly changing. Traditionally, the operation of land casinos was prohibited throughout the state, and unlike California, few compacts existed between the legislature and Native American tribes that would have allowed development on their land. This has, in fact, been the cause of much legal wrangling over the last few months, with members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah facing resistance from the state to their plans to build a "modest" casino on Martha's Vineyard.

Gambling itself, though, is not expressly prohibited. Massachusetts has forgone the opportunity to enact provisions that would penalise online gambling, choosing instead to rely on the Federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act 2006 - a law that prohibits businesses (primarily financial institutions) from accepting payments in connection with online gambling. The laws that do exist relate purely to land casinos, although there are a number of exceptions. Residents can partake in legal pari-mutuel betting at regulated and licensed racecourses, and the legislature has made specific exemptions for charitable gaming - these are overseen by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), in conjunction with the state lottery and Attorney General.

Although there do not seem to have been any prosecutions relating to gambling online, attempts to expressly licence online gaming have so far been rebuffed, most recently after State Senate Leader Bruce Tarr attempted to attach legislation to a transportation finance bill back in July 2013. However, this is unlikely to represent the final attempt to legalise the provision of online gambling.

The Expanded Gaming Act

As mentioned above, the industry in Massachusetts is rapidly changing, and the signing of the celebrated Expanded Gaming Act 2011 by governor Deval Patrick marked a major step forward. The law permits the establishment of three casinos in the state, as well as one additional slot room.

All four locations have now been approved by local referendums, with more than $2.5 billion worth of construction and development work set to kick off in 2014. The process has been far from seamless, though, and the state is currently involved in an ugly legal dispute with Caesars Entertainment group, who claim that a conflict of interest led the MGC to grant licences to Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe are also set to benefit from the changing attitudes, with the state senate recently agreeing to a new compact that would allow the construction of a $500 million resort in the city of Taunton, bringing a potential 2,600 permanent jobs to the area.

Popular Markets

The state boasts a number of successful sports teams, including the Boston Bruins, the Celtics, the Red Sox and the New England Patriots. This has led to a proliferation of online sports betting in Massachusetts, with residents taking advantage of the hands off approach that typifies the state's attitude to internet wagers. Poker has been another popular pastime, and though playing in public remains illegal, the state has produced a number of big name players, including Dan Harrington and Bernard Lee.

The Future of Gambling in Massachusetts

With the state looking to benefit from the extra revenue that legalised gambling would bring, players should expect significant changes ahead. When the casino situation is resolved, most likely in 2014, the online landscape will be next under the microscope.

Changes are likely to be heavily influenced by the three major casinos planning to open during 2014, and it is possible that new online gaming laws will be pegged to their operations in a manner similar to that recently seen in New Jersey and Delaware. While it will be good to see the state catering for players on home soil, this could also mean the closing of loopholes, allowing legal access to offshore platforms.

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