Massachusetts seeks to punish online players


Many poker players prize playing online, because bricks-and-mortar casinos or cardrooms are too far away or too expensive for them to travel to. Online play also means that people who are ill or incapacitated can continue to enjoy a longstanding  pastime in poker.

At the same time, however, even players who do live near gaming venues will forgo the drive to their favorite spot in favor of the comfort of playing in their homes (check out the hometowns of players at your table online for evidence).

But a proposed bill before the Massachusetts legislature could have significant impact on both the live game and online poker if it is enacted.

According to an article in the Boston Globe on Nov. 10, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is seeking to expand casino activity in his state. Massachusetts currently doesn't have any state-sponsored casinos.

Governor Patrick is looking to start up three casinos in his state, but with a caveat that should send a chill down the spines of poker-loving Massachusetts residents.

Buried deep within the bill that Governor Patrick is proposing is an additional legislative move that would make online gaming, including poker, illegal in the state of Massachusetts. The punishment for violators of this law would be up to two years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

It is similar to the law that was passed in 2005 in the state of Washington, which made online poker play a Class C felony (along the lines of child molestation). Adopting it would put Massachusetts in a small fraternity of states that prohibit online gaming.

The legislation comes at a time when one of Massachusetts' longest-serving members of congress, Rep. Barney Frank, is seeking to overturn or amend the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which was passed last October. As expected, Frank isn't fond of the moves of his state's governor.

"Why is gambling in a casino OK and gambling on the Internet [...] not?" Frank is quoted in the Globe article as saying. "He's making a big mistake. He's giving opponents an argument against him."

It appears the reasoning behind the legislation is to shield the new B&M casinos from competition from the online arena. Cries of monopoly have been raised by this move and with good reason.

The current bill being proposed by Governor Patrick is in the State House at this point but hearings on it are not expected until next year. Potential operators could bid on the contracts for the three casinos at what is estimated to be a $200-$300 million per-casino addition to the coffers of the state.

But the anti-online-gaming legislation concealed in the bill, sounding much like last year's UIGEA, should be a point of concern.

Governor Patrick's current maneuvering is a stark display of how the question of Internet gaming and poker has yet to be resolved. To link online gaming to crime and social problems, though, is disingenuous.

The only reason a government can have for making Internet activity illegal is to control its citizens and to capture a particular market for their own purposes. Perhaps Massachusetts citizens will recognize this and encourage Governor Patrick to remove the criminalization of online gaming from legislation which will otherwise provide a significant boon to the state, its residents and potential tourists.

Related Article: PPA Turning Attention to Massachusetts

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