A move by the Massachusetts legislature earlier in April to legalize table games in land-based casinos came with a provision that online gaming be criminalized for all residents of the state. Though it seemed like a long-shot to remove that wording after the committee hearing and prior to its vote in the House of Representatives, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) and residents of the state organized a nationwide effort to plead for the withdrawal of the provision. It worked.
The bill in question was introduced in the first days of April by House Speaker Robert De Leo and Chairman Brian Dempsey, and its main purpose was to authorize the building of two resort-style casinos as well as the implementation of slot machines in existing racetrack facilities. But out of all the provisions in the bill, one that caught the eye of the gaming community would have outlawed internet wagers and put forth severe penalties - up to a two-year prison term and maximum fine of $25,000 - for any violations.
But the PPA launched an all-out effort to change the minds of the Massachusetts legislature, on top of efforts that have been in process since 2008 when the idea of criminalization was first proposed. With more than 25,000 members in Massachusetts alone and online gaming supporters nationwide, legislators’ offices were flooded with calls and e-mails requesting the removal of the online gaming wording from the bill. And a PPA-supported amendment was submitted to the state’s House of Representatives by Dempsey to do just that. And on April 14, the PPA announced that the amendment passed.
PPA Executive Director John Pappas stated, “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… 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 [Brian] Wallace for his continued support. We will now focus on 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.”
The next step, according to the PPA, is to assist Rep. Wallace with a piece of legislation, H.4069, that seeks to declare poker a game of skill in Massachusetts, a move that would set a precedent for others states to do the same.