Massachusetts Gambling Expansion in Jeopardy

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Massachusetts is typically held up by conservatives as an example of liberal ideas run amok, thanks to my home state’s combination of a high-cost of living and the state legislature’s overwhelmingly Democratic tilt, over 70%, while the federal delegation from Massachusetts is made up entirely of Democrats.

That being said, beneath all of the layers of liberal there is another side to “Taxachusetts” that only longtime residents are typically aware of, and it’s this other side that will be the thorniest issue when it comes to online gambling expansion in the commonwealth.

Despite its stereotypes Massachusetts still has strong ties to its Puritan roots. While surrounding states have had gambling options since the 1990’s, brick & mortar gambling expansion had o wait until 2011 to be passed in MA. An abstention that has seen Massachusetts residents spend millions at casinos just across state lines.

Tattoos were banned in the state until the year 2000 when the archaic ban on tattoo parlors was ruled unconstitutional.

Massachusetts blue laws are among the strictest in the country with off-premise sales of alcoholic beverages on Sundays barred until 2004 and still requiring local approval.

Even bars in the state suffer, as they are forced to close by 2 AM in Boston, with most closing at 1 AM.

Massachusetts may have the social programs and tax rates of a liberal state, and we may have been out in front on issues such as marriage equality, but when it comes to matters of vice and “fun,” we possess a resume that would make any social conservative from the deep south proud, particularly when it comes to gambling.

Candidates using gambling as a wedge issue

The 2011 passage of land-based gambling expansion was seen as the first step towards comprehensive, 21st century, gaming options, and following the 2011 passage of a bill authorizing land-based casinos in the commonwealth there was a lot of talk about further gambling expansion in the state.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from statewide candidates for both the governorship and for the attorney general’s office it would appear that gambling is going to be a wedge issue in the coming elections, and Massachusetts may not just be looking at stagnation when it comes to gambling expansion but possible regression.

Gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley has come out in strong opposition to online gambling, while her chief opponent and current State Treasurer Steve Grossman is one of the few elected officials that has been pushing for online gambling expansion.

In the attorney general’s race one of the Democratic candidates has come out completely against gambling of any kind, as Maura Healey is running on a platform that calls for a repeal of the 2011 law that authorized the construction of land-based casinos in the state. While at the same time her opponent, Warren Tolman, the more liberal of the two, is working on distancing himself from his past affiliations with an online gambling company according to the Boston Globe, as he apparently sees online gambling expansion as a losing issue as well.

Essentially, with the exception of Steve Grossman, all of the candidates for statewide offices have shown this is not a topic they want to broach, and Coakley and Healey have gone a step further, banking on an anti-gambling campaign helping them carry the day.

That is, so long as it is an anti-gambling campaign that doesn’t upset the state’s lottery, as the Mass Lottery is off-limits.

A strange lottery law that could hamper online expansion

Massachusetts lottery is seen as the model across the nation, with a track record that other states hope to emulate in terms of per capita spending, and Massachusetts lawmakers treat the lottery like a sacred cow.

Remarkably, the state has managed to accomplish this feat despite the fact that lottery tickets in Massachusetts cannot be purchased with a credit card (in 2011 the state passed a law that does permit sales via debit card), which is yet another example of Massachusetts strange puritanical roots still affecting modern policy.

This same somewhat ridiculous opinion, that Massachusetts should consider barring credit card sales for online gambling transactions if a law were to be passed, was voiced during the online hearing held in March, which virtually everyone in the industry sees as a nonstarter (no credit cards no industry) and capable of stunting the industry’s growth from the get go.

One speaker at the hearing, State Senator Jennifer Flanagan, is also pushing for an even more cautious approach for online gambling expansion than simply restricting payment options.

Flanagan prefers to let the land-based casino industry get off the ground first, and only then explore potential online gambling expansion –a plan many feel would cause Massachusetts to be left behind in the quickly evolving industry.

Land-based expansion has already hit multiple red lights

Equally troubling were the numerous down votes squashing local casino projects in several areas (casino projects needed to gain the support of elected town officials and then pass a town wide referendum) and now the state Supreme Court must decide if a statewide referendum to repeal the casino bill from 2011 should land on the next ballot.

All in all, Massachusetts looks promising to outside viewers, but residents know that anything of import takes a lot of time to get accomplished.


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