Residents of Massachusetts have been at odds over the subject of poker for years. Many in the state want live poker in local casinos, and others seek favorable online poker laws. In the latter category, a group of activists started a petition in 2009 to establish a regulated and taxed internet poker industry to provide revenue for the state and allow people to play poker legally, but that effort never gained much ground. And since that time, state legislators have taken up the subject, and the resulting bill may go so far as to authorize the building of two casinos that will offer live poker, though internet gambling may be specifically outlawed at the same time.
The bill in question was originally introduced during the first week of April by House Speaker Robert De Leo and Chairman Brian Dempsey to approve two resort-style casinos that would include poker and allow four existing racetracks to install up to 750 slot machines. The bill quickly went for a vote in the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and passed by a vote of 12 to 2 with 5 members abstaining from the vote. According to the Boston Globe, the opposing members were Rep. Denis Guyer and Sen. Susan Tucker.
While the legislation looks positive for live poker and subsequent revenue for Massachusetts, as about 15,000 jobs could be created and $1.7 billion raised, the online poker industry is set up to suffer. One of the provisions in the bill looks to outlaw any internet wager and institute a penalty of up to two years in prison and maximum fine of $25,000 for any type of internet gambling, including poker.
The Poker Players Alliance contingent in the state, which represents nearly 40,000 dues-paying members, has mobilized to try to remove the online gaming provision from the bill. And as of April 6, a PPA member posted on a popular poker forum that the online gaming language may be removed.
The bill is now set for a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee before hitting the floor of the House for debate sometime in April.