Massachusetts Online Gambling Laws

Massachusetts is in the midst of modernizing its gambling laws. The newly created Massachusetts Gambling Commission underwent some growing pains in the past five years, as Stephen Crosby and his fellow commissioners dealt with the rivalries and controversies which come with multi-billion-dollar casino licenses. They also got blindsided by the Steve Wynn scandal which led to his resignation.

Despite the bad press, Massachusetts leaders have created the first land-based casinos, while legalizing daily fantasy sports. Given their embrace of DFS gaming, those who want gambling expansion can hope to see sports betting and online poker bills in the coming years. A bill to legalize online lottery ticket sales failed in 2017, but was pushed again in 2018. Online lotto is only a matter of time, so online poker is not far-fetched.

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Massachusetts State Gambling Laws

Massachusetts state gambling laws are a mix of the old and the new. 2011-2012 were important years for Massachusetts casino gambling. As the Global Recession was continuing to bite, Massachusetts officials agreed to a statewide casino referendum. This approved up to three casino licenses to generate much-needed tax revenues for the commonwealth. Eight years later, those casinos are generating tax revenues – finally.

A look through Massachusetts gambling laws also shows anachronistic language, especially when it comes to fines and forfeitures. Those who engage in illegal gambling in Massachusetts can hope the rules remain archaic, but the legislature eventually will get around to updating the statutes. Here’s a glimpse of the laws that pertain to Massachusetts gambling.

Laws That Pertain to Massachusetts Gambling

Many of Massachusetts’ gambling laws strike me as being written a long time ago. They seem to have a karmic justice to them. For instance, if you won a certain amount playing cards and the authorities caught you, then you would be required to forfeit (to the state) twice as much as you won. I suppose gambling organizers would be subject to the same laws, so a gaming ring might be forced to forfeit millions of dollars.

Chapter 271: Section 1: Forfeitures

Whoever, on a prosecution commenced within eighteen months after the commission of the crime, is convicted of winning at one time or sitting, by gaming or betting on the sides or hands of those gaming, money or goods to the value of five dollars or more, and of receiving the same or security therefor, shall forfeit double the value of such money or goods.

It is interesting to see the statute of limitations on gambling-related crimes. You’ll be punished with a fine twice the size of your gambling winnings, unless it’s been 18 months since you committed the crime. If 18 months have passed since the crime, you get off scot free.

Chapter 271: Section 2: Fines & Imprisonment

Whoever, in a public conveyance or public place, or in a private place upon which he is trespassing, plays at cards, dice or any other game for money or other property, or bets on the sides or hands of those playing, shall forfeit not more than fifty dollars or be imprisoned for not more than three months; and whoever sets up or permits such a game shall be punished by a fine of not less than fifty nor more than one hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not less than three nor more than twelve months.

Section 2 seems particularly old in nature. The terms of imprisonment seem well out of proportion to the fines levied. At most, those found guilty of gambling will be assessed a fine of $50 or less. At the same time, the same person can expect to be imprisoned up to 3 months. If I have the choice, I’ll take the fine.

Is Gambling Legal in the State of Massachusetts?

Yes, Massachusetts has 2 brick-and-mortar casinos and the Gaming Commission has the authority to license a third development. Over a hundred charitable gambling organizations are licensed for bingo games. The state lottery has existed since 1971, while pari-mutuel betting is still operational. Online poker and sports betting are banned, but most other forms of gambling are legal and regulated.

Massachusetts Gambling Laws

Type of Gambling – Offered/Licensed? – Notes & Restrictions
  • Online Gambling – No – No online poker or online casinos.
  • Land-Based Casinos – Yes – Two land-based casinos and one racino.
  • Charitable Gaming – Yes – Yes, 141 organizations have licenses.
  • Lottery Betting – Yes – State Lottery (1971), Powerball (2010), Mega Millions (1996).
  • Minimum Gambling Age – 18 for charitable gaming, lotteries, pari-mutuels. 21 for casinos and casino ships.

Is Online Poker Legal in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts Online Poker Laws

Neither online poker nor online casinos are legal in Massachusetts. Any online poker, casino gambling, or sportsbook betting that takes place in Massachusetts does so in an offshore, unregulated market. Land-based casino gambling was legalized only in 2011. Those casinos are barely launched, so the call for online gambling has not happened yet.

It might never happen. The land-based casino licensing process has faced several controversies and lawsuits, which might have soured this generation of voters on gambling expansion. The Boston casino license generated two lawsuits and required the Gaming Commission’s chairman to recuse himself. The Everett casino, Encore Boston Harbor, is undergoing a licensing investigation at present. Those stories got big coverage in the Boston news media, so voters and lawmakers might not want to license any new operations anytime soon.

Is Sports Betting / Daily Fantasy Sports Legal in Massachusetts?

Sports betting is not legal in Massachusetts, though it is not out of the question that the Massachusetts legislature would pass a sports betting bill in 2019 or 2020. While there has been little indication that sportsbook legalization might happen, several casino operators and DFS operators might lobby for such gaming in the near future.

Plainridge Race Course in Plainville is likely to lobby for a sportsbook, because its arch-rival across the Rhode Island border, Twin Rivers Casino, just opened a sportsbook two months ago. Plainridge tends to complain when Twin Rivers has a form of gambling it doesn’t. Also, MGM Resorts has a casino in the state, while Wynn Resorts plans to open Encore Boston Harbor in June 2019. Each of those companies have famous sportsbooks in Las Vegas and would like to add a sports betting option in their Massachusetts casinos.

Finally, DraftKings is now a sportsbook operator and sports betting app designer in the New Jersey gaming market. It might want to expand to its home state.

Daily fantasy sports are legal in Massachusetts. State Attorney General Maura Tierney introduced daily fantasy sports regulations which were praised by DraftKings and FanDuel. DraftKings is a Boston-based business. In fact, a group of Boston residents founded DraftKings in late 2011 and 2012, so it is considered a business to be fostered by the state government.

Does Massachusetts have land-based casinos?

Yes, it has two land-based casinos. The $960 million MGM Springfield opened in August 2018 to rave reviews. The $2.4 billion Encore Boston Harbor (originally Wynn Boston Harbor) plans to open in June 2019. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission continues to review Wynn Resorts’ worthiness to own the Everett casino license in the wake of former CEO Steve Wynn’s sexual misconduct scandal. If Wynn Resorts loses the license, it likely will sell the multi-billion-dollar resort to another operator.

The people of Massachusetts authorized a third land-based casino back in 2012, but it is uncertain whether that license ever will be awarded. Rush Street Gaming submitted a develop plan for Brockton, but that applicated was rejected. At the time, many believed the commercial casino in Brockton would cannibalize business for the Wampanoag Tribe, which hoped to build First Light Casino in Taunton.

Since then, the First Light Casino appears to have been put on the shelf. The US Department of the Interior’s Indian Affairs Bureau must authorize the Wampanoag to open a casino, but it rejected their claim that they owned the lands before 1934. It is an outrageous claim, since the Wampanoag were the Native Americans depicted sitting down for dinner with the Pilgrims in the Thanksgiving Day stories. They have lived in Massachusetts — and presumably owned land there — for a very, very long time.

It is possible the Wampanoag will review the Taunton casino plan in the future, when another administration takes office. The First Light Casino was being bankrolled by the Genting Group, the multinational conglomerate from Malaysia which owns Resorts World New York, Resorts World Catskills, and (soon to be) Resorts World Las Vegas. Genting also owns one of the largest casinos in the world, Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore. It also owns rubber plantations in Southeast Asia and oil platforms in the Indian Ocean, so Genting has more resources than virtually any other casino company in the world.

Casinos

SPRINGFIELD

Name of Casino Address Phone Numbers Details
MGM Springfield One MGM Way, Springfield, Massachusetts 01103-2142 (413) 273-5000 3,000 Gaming Machines, 75 Poker and Gaming Tables

EVERETT

Name of Casino Address Phone Numbers Details
Encore Boston Harbor One Broadway, Everett, Massachusetts 02149 (857) 770-7000 3242 Gaming Machines, 88 Poker Tables, 168 Table Games

Does Massachusetts have any legal betting tracks / shops?

Yes, Massachusetts has one operating legal betting track: Plainridge Park Racetrack in Plainville, Massachusetts. Plainridge is owned by the Pennsylvania gaming company, Penn National Gaming. The facility hosts harness racing. Suffolk Downs was a Boston race track for over 70 years, but it closed in October 2014 after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission chose Wynn Resorts casino plan for Everett over the Suffolk Downs/Mohegan Sun plan for Everett.

Suffolk Downs once hosted the Massachusetts Handicap, or “MassCap”, which had a $500,000 purse. That race had not been hosted as Suffolk Downs since 2008. The track had been an off-track betting facility with simulcasting in the years since.

Dog Track

RAYNHAM

Name of Casino Address Phone Numbers Details
Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park 1958 Broadway, Raynham, Massachusetts 02767-1900 (508) 824-4071 Keno

Horse Track

EAST BOSTON

Name of Casino Address Phone Numbers Details
Suffolk Downs 525 William F. McClellan Highway, East Boston, Massachusetts 02128-2280 (617) 567-3900 Race Book

Horse Track Racino

PLAINVILLE

Name of Casino Address Phone Numbers Details
Plainridge Park Casino 301 Washington Street, Plainville, Massachusetts 02762-1314 (508) 576-4500 1,250 Gaming Machines, Race Book

Does Massachusetts allow off-track betting?

Yes, but only barely. Until Suffolk Downs closed in 2014, it operated as an off-track betting facility. Plainridge Park has simulcasting and off-track betting, along with its harness races. Off-track betting was legalized nearly 25 years ago after then-governor William Weld created a commission to advise him on the subject — it advised the creation of legal off-track betting facilities to save Suffolk Downs. Plainridge Park, which did not exist at the time, is now the main beneficiary.

In 1992, Gov. William Weld issued Executive Order 338, which created a commission to advise the governor on whether to establish off-track betting. The Executive Order, which also was referred to as Executive Order 329 in the same signed document, justified itself with the words: “It is in the interest of the Commonwealth to further support the harness, thoroughbred and greyhound racing industries including the promotion of breeding programs, farmland and open space.”

Does Massachusetts allow charitable gambling?

On September 4, 1973, control of charitable bingo was transferred from Massachusetts Department of Public Safety to the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission. The law changed was Chapter 729 of the Acts of 1973. For those searching for legal references to charitable bingo halls, early references to bingo in Massachusetts law uses the word “Beano”.

The Massachusetts State Lottery Corporation has licensed 141 charitable gambling organizations in the state. A tax rate of 5% is imposed on these organizations. Of the taxes collected, 60% goes to the General Fund and 40% goes to the State Lottery to pay for the oversight and regulation of Bingo, subject to appropriation. Any unappropriated funds each year goes to the General Fund.

Is Social gaming allowed in Massachusetts?

Yes. Social casinos are playable in Massachusetts. Slotomania, Zynga Poker, Zynga Slots, Double Down Casino, and Big Fish Games are social casinos which can be played for free. Players either can play social casino games on Facebook or through an iOS or Android download on their mobile smartphone.

Those who define social gaming as card games in the privacy of their own home can enjoy poker nights without being raided if they do not charge a rake. If you plan to make a profit by organizing a private poker game, then that is considered illegal gambling in Massachusetts. Such games naturally skirt Massachusetts tax laws and therefore are banned.