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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Massachusetts Governor Pushes for Casinos

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Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is pushing to license three resort casinos in his state.

This may surprise those who voted for him as he seems to have done an about face on the gambling issue. When he was campaigning for office in 2006, he was opposed to bringing slot machines to Massachusetts.

In a statement issued last year, his then campaign spokesman Kahlil Byrd stated, "Patrick recognizes the case for saving jobs and gaining additional revenue, but he's worried slot machine gambling could have a negative impact on communities, and on the lottery." Byrd said of the Massachusetts state lottery, "We can't do anything to jeopardize that."

Now, it appears Governor Patrick has reversed his stance on gambling, by proposing a bill that would allow three casinos to operate in the state. But the bad news for poker players is that hidden inside the bill, is a provision that bans gambling online. This practice of sneaking in one bill with another is a common tool for politicians, and that's how the UIGEA got passed, by attaching it to the Safe Port Act.

Betting online has the courts divided over the legality of internet gambling, and the laws vary from state to state. Although Massachusetts doesn't have any current laws that prohibit residents from gambling online, if Patrick has his way, Massachusetts will join the states that do ban online gambling.

The 46 year old federal law which prohibits betting via telephone lines has been conveniently interpreted by the government as prohibiting all online gambling. Until now, only those who operate the gambling sites were prosecuted, not those who play on them. If Governor Patrick's bill is passed, all that will change.

Patrick's bill would make it illegal for his states residents to place a bet on line. He has even proposed that violators would face fines of up to $25,000 and up to a two year jail term. Just how this law would be enforced is unclear. It is hard to imagine a task force of "internet gambling police" being deployed to knock down the doors of citizens suspected of gambling online.

Governor Patrick's bill has put him on opposite sides of the fence with US Representative Barney Frank. Fellow Democrat Frank, who is the sponsor of federal legislation to license and regulate online gambling in the US, strongly criticized Patrick's plan to prosecute online players. Frank's objection is that while Patrick wants to punish people who play online, he is at the same time holding the door open for casino operators to come into the state.

"Why is gambling in a casino OK and gambling on the Internet is not?" Frank said. "He's making a big mistake. He's giving opponents an argument against him."

Governor Patrick's change of heart appears to stem from pure economics. About the casino issue he said, "Stop reading the tea leaves and the entrails and all that, I am about where I was in the campaign. What I recognize is that this is a revenue source at a time when we need new revenue sources, particularly for cities and towns." He also said that though he worries about the social costs of gambling, "one argument that's been made to me is that we deal with those social costs anyway with those people who go to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun and elsewhere for gambling."

So far, Patrick's office has not explained the governor's reasons for including the online betting ban in the proposed casino legislation. They also have not responded to the comments made by US Representative Frank.

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