Massachusetts Appoints Special Panel to Study Omnibus iGaming and DFS Legislation

As reported by the State House News Service, on September 8th the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) voted in favor of appointing Chairman Stephen Crosby to a special panel, which has been tasked with studying all avenues of real money online gambling in the state.

During an open meeting, the MGC passed a motion to appoint Crosby to the special iGaming panel by a vote of 4-0, with Crosby himself abstaining. At one point in the meeting, Crosby outlined the Massachusetts government’s motivation for creating the panel:

“Hopefully, this will be an opportunity for us to continue…the initiative that we’ve made about trying to come up with some omnibus legislation that will give the Legislature and then probably the Gaming Commission the tools to regulate all of online gaming.”

Since the state authorized the Expanded Gambling Act of 2011 – which called for the opening of a slot parlor and three resort-style casinos among other industry enhancements – Massachusetts has been at the center of the state-by-state debate over iGaming regulation.

The MGC has been particularly vocal in its support for an omnibus legislation package, or a single law encompassing all forms of online gambling, including poker, casino games, slots, lottery, and daily fantasy sports (DFS).

The reasoning for using an omnibus bill comes from an appraisal of other states and their respective iGaming laws, most of which cover one industry or another with little overlap. New Jersey and Delaware, for example, have legal online casinos, while Nevada limits the action to poker only. Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan all run online lotteries, but no casino or poker gaming.

In late 2015 the state engaged in extended legislative debates on the merits of regulating the rapidly growing DFS industry. At the time, Crosby offered the following take to reporters, setting the stage for a potential omnibus legislation approach:

“Would it make sense for the Legislature to try to craft an omnibus regulatory bill for all of these new electronic gaming technologies – because there’s so many of them?

“If they could craft a bill, which incorporated regulatory priorities, fundamental values, whatever, that could be applied to all of these games – e-sports, [daily fantasy sports], online poker, whatever all the new ones are – maybe then they could give it to some agency to implement, and the agency does the grunt work every six months making it apply to whatever the new technology is.”

Although Massachusetts was able to strengthen DFS oversight through the state’s Attorney General’s office in March of this year, becoming the third state to regulate DFS, the anticipated omnibus iGaming bill failed to gain traction.
With the creation of the special panel, however, along with the MGC’s strident support for full iGaming legislation, the potential for an omnibus bill passing sometime in 2017 has been significantly heightened.

The panel, which will be led by State Senator Eileen Donaoghue and State Representative Joseph Wagner – who both occupy seats on the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies – must hold its first meeting by November 1st.

From there, the panel must submit its findings and recommendations on a wide range of iGaming issues, including taxation and licensing fees, consumer protection mandates, and statewide economic impact projections, by July 31st of 2017.