Massachusetts has recently become one of the more gambling-friendly states in the nation. In 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed the Expanded Gaming Act into law which authorized the development of three casino-resorts and one slots facility in Massachusetts. This recent addition of gaming bodes well for the development of online betting as it indicates Massachusetts is starting to take a friendlier view toward all forms of wagering.
Online betting in the state is currently restricted to horse racing, fantasy sports and skill games. However, the future of online sports betting, poker and casinos looks bright in Massachusetts. The state is in a growth phase for gambling and the people seem more accepting of gambling here than in other states. Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg was asked about his thoughts on internet gambling and responded with a simple “I personally don’t see how you avoid it.”
The state’s Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby added that it would be best to wait until all three of Massachusetts’ land-based casino licenses are awarded. He didn’t outright endorse internet gaming but also didn’t condemn the idea. With this in mind, it’s quite possible Massachusetts will be one of the next states to legalize and regulate online poker and gambling.
Until that happens, residents do have a few other legal options for online betting right now. Let’s take a look at those and then follow up with a discussion of the state’s criminal laws regarding gambling.
Legal Online Betting Sites in Massachusetts
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Games of Skill:
The above betting sites are all authorized by the state to offer their services to residents. These are not your typical offshore casinos that operate contrary to state and federal laws. Each of these companies is hosted in the United States and is completely legal.
Massachusetts is home to two live horse racing tracks and one simulcasting facility. Suffolk Downs was in operation for 79 years and was very well known during the heyday of American horse racing. On October 3rd 2014, the track announced the end of live racing at the venue. Competition from other forms of gambling had been eating into the track’s profits and the owners announced that they could no longer stay in business.
The state’s other live horse racing venue is Plainridge Racecourse. This one is in much better shape after having been awarded the state’s sole Category 2 slots license under the Expanded Gaming Act in 2014. Plainridge Racecourse is now in the process of expanding its gaming area to include 106,000 square feet of gaming space and 1,250 slot machines.
Online horse racing betting is permitted in Massachusetts provided the operator holds the appropriate licensing.
Online fantasy sports betting was legalized at the federal level in 2006 after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) declared it a game of skill. This opened the doors for sites such as those listed above to begin hosting real money fantasy leagues over the internet in most states.
However, each state does retain the power to determine for itself whether or not fantasy sports are considered gambling under state law. That exact question came up in Massachusetts in 2015 and 2016 when both the Attorney General and Massachusetts Gaming Commission weighed in on the matter.
In November of 2015, Attorney General Maura Healey found that daily fantasy contests do comply with state laws. She also proposed a set of regulations for the industry. Some of those proposed regulations include:
- Minimum participation age of 21
- Maximum monthly deposit limit of $1,000 per player
- Deposit limits may be increased on a case-by-case basis
- Classification of “highly experienced players”
- Fantasy sites must offer beginner-only contests
In January of 2016, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission released a white paper detailing its take on daily fantasy sports in Massachusetts. The Commission said that the matter of legality remains “unsettled,” but officials with the Commission did offer to oversee and regulate the industry if the state does indeed find the activity to be legal.
New legislation to formally legalize and regulate fantasy sports was proposed later that year. That bill advocated putting into place Attorney General Healey’s recommended regulations through July 31st, 2018. The bill successfully made its way through the legislature. Governor Charlie Baker signed it into law in August of 2016.
A more permanent bill was introduced in 2018. This bill looks similar to DFS bill passed in other states to date, although with higher-than-average licensing fees for providers. Bill S 2273 calls for:
- Licensing fees: the lesser amount of $100,000 or 1.5% of the previous year’s gross revenue from the previous year. If the operator had no gross revenue in the previous year, the licensing fee is $50,000.
- The Massachusetts Gaming Commission may conduct audits as necessary, but not less than once a year
- Tax rate: 15% of gross revenue
- Operators must also adhere to a variety of standard consumer protection regulations such as safeguarding player funds, prohibiting employees of sites from participating, setting a minimum age of 21 and so on
It has always been legal to wager on games of pure skill in the United States. Several individual states prohibit skill game wagering but Massachusetts does not. You’re welcome to visit the following gaming site to play real money games such as Solitaire, Bejeweled, Spades and Scrabble against other people.
The Massachusetts State Lottery does not offer its games online at this point. This may change in the future, but it is most definitely illegal to sell lotto tickets online inside the state. Any website that offers MA lottery tickets online is neither legal nor authorized… so buyer beware. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not some offshore lottery site will pay up if you win a million dollars.
One alternative you have to playing online is to purchase “season tickets.” These season tickets act as a subscription service in which you can pay to enter drawings automatically for 3, 6 or 12 months up front. Once you pay and fill out the season tickets form, the lottery will automatically enter you into each drawing.
Season tickets are available for Mega Millions, Megabucks Doubler, Powerball and Lucky for Life. You must visit an authorized lottery agent in person to purchase season tickets; these also are not sold online. Visit this page for a list of authorized retailers.
The gambling portion of Massachusetts’ criminal code is badly outdated and as such makes no mention of the internet. What the lottery does mention is the use of the telephone to participate in gambling. This could possibly be construed to apply to the internet (in similar fashion to the federal Wire Act) but there is no case law to refer to. No person has ever been charged under this law for online gambling or poker.
Here’s what Section 17A, Chapter 271 of Title 1 says in regard to betting over a telephone:
Whoever uses a telephone or, being the occupant in control of premises where a telephone is located or a subscriber for a telephone, knowingly permits another to use a telephone so located or for which he subscribes, as the case may be, for the purpose of accepting wagers or bets, or buying or selling of pools, or for placing all or any portion of a wager with another, upon the result of a trial or contest of skill, speed, or endurance of man, beast, bird, or machine, or upon the result of an athletic game or contest, or upon the lottery called the numbers game, or for the purpose of reporting the same to a headquarters or booking office, or who under a name other than his own or otherwise falsely or fictitiously procures telephone service for himself or another for such purposes, shall be punished by a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year
The penalties for participating in gambling and organizing gambling without the proper authorization are fairly minor for players but are quite harsh for those in the “business” of gambling.
Section 1 outlines the financial penalty for participating in gambling:
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, except as permitted under chapter 23K, 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.
Section 2 takes it further by adding penalties for gamblers who play in public areas or trespass on private areas to partake in unlawful gambling and for those who organize such games:
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, except as permitted under chapter 23K, 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 16A outlines the harsh penalty for organizing gambling with the following text:
Whoever knowingly organizes, supervises, manages or finances at least four persons so that such persons may provide facilities or services or assist in the provision of facilities or services for the conduct of illegal lotteries, or for the illegal registration of bets or the illegal buying or selling of pools upon the result of a trial or contest of skill, speed or endurance of man, beast, bird or machine, or upon the happening of any event, or upon the result of a game, competition, political nomination, appointment or election, or whoever knowingly receives from at least four such persons compensation or payment in any form as a return from such lotteries, such registration or such buying or selling shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than fifteen years or by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
The text of Section 2 from above is difficult to interpret but it may actually prohibit social gambling. In any case it’s relatively safe to participate in gambling both online and offline in the state. It is extremely risky to organize any form of unlawful gambling given the harsh penalties for doing so.
Because the penalties are so harsh, it would be a smart idea to speak with an attorney before you host or participate in any form of gambling outside of Massachusetts’ explicitly legal venues. I’m not a lawyer and I’m sure you know how easy it is for laymen such as myself to misinterpret legalese. Additionally, gambling laws change all the time and you want to make sure you’re up to date with everything before you move forward with any plans.
Legalizing Online Poker and Casino Sites in Massachusetts
Massachusetts made our list of the 7 states “most likely to legalize online gambling in 2017” due to favorable developments over the past two years. Most importantly, two of the three existing casino operators in Massachusetts are clearly in favor of legalizing online casinos and poker sites. MGM and Penn National have both come out in favor of the idea and MGM has already entered the online poker market in Nevada.
Additionally, the chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has also expressed support of gambling commission. The Commission held a meeting in February of 2017 to discuss how they would go about regulating the industry should favorable legislation be passed.
One legalization bill was submitted in January of 2017, but the bill lacks specifics beyond calling for legalization. All in all, these developments bode well for the future of online gambling in Maryland.
On top of all that, a special commission formed by the legislature was tasked with studying the impacts of online gambling and fantasy sports regulation. The commission was widely expected to recommend legalizing online gambling. The final report was published on July 31st and appeared to be mostly in favor of legalization, although perhaps not on the timeline everyone was hoping.
The full report is a long read, but overall the commission was supportive of online gambling in Michigan. The special commissioned urged lawmakers to consider a wide range of gambling activities beyond just daily fantasy sports, including traditional casino games, sports betting, social gaming and online prediction markets. The commission also recommended looking at how Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have managed online gaming.
The commission also recommended using broad language to define online gaming, to regulate online gaming but to avoid stamping out innovation with burdensome regulations/taxes and to give special considering to the growth of eSports.
On the issue of legalization, the commission recommended against immediate legalization of additional forms of gaming. Instead, the commission urged lawmakers to deal with daily fantasy sports and the opening of two more resort casinos before dealing with additional forms of online gaming. However, the commission did say online gambling is “inevitable” and urged lawmakers to revisit the issue in the near future.
Next Potential Avenue for Legalization
Interestingly, the 2018 bill seeking to legalize daily fantasy sports (Bill S 2273, detailed above on this page) may hold the key for opening the door to other forms of gaming. A post published by Online Poker Report explains that the language of the bill defines the phrase “online game” with such a broad scope that this very bill could potentially be used to legalize “online poker, casino games and beyond.”
Online Poker Report notes that the broad definition included in the bill was surprising considering the special commission’s previous recommendation that online gaming beyond fantasy sports not be expanded until after Massachusetts could get its new resort casinos up and running.
On the other hand, the commission did recommend lawmakers use broad language to define the phrase “online gaming.” In the 2017 report, the commission included this:
“Defining Online Gaming: The Special Commission heard from many experts and interested parties about the necessity of defining “online gaming,” and views this charge as one of the most important to carry out. Because Massachusetts already enjoys such a broad reading of what constitutes gaming, the Special Commission recommends a correspondingly comprehensive definition of what is considered ‘online gaming.’”
Sports Betting in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has not introduced any legislation specifically seeking to legalize sports betting, but lawmakers are studying the issue closely. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission produced a white paper that was released in March of 2018 detailing the many considerations lawmakers should weigh if they decide to legalize and regulate sports betting in the future.
The 187-page white paper estimates the state could earn anywhere from $9 million to $61 million in tax revenue from sports betting depending on tax rates and how permissive the laws are if it is legalized. If Massachusetts restricted sports betting to land-based casinos and imposed a low tax rate of 6.75%, for example, the white paper estimates the state would earn $8.6 million per year. Likewise, the white paper estimates tax revenues of $61.3 million if the state allowed sports betting at casinos, retails locations and online with a tax rate of 15%.
The white paper also details the various legal considerations related to legalizing sports betting, details pending legislation in other states and explains the legal background regarding PASPA and potential outcomes of the Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of PASPA. Although the white paper was produced with Massachusetts in mind, it is chock-full of useful information for lawmakers and stakeholders across the country.
The Supreme Court ended up ruling PASPA unconstitutional, giving Massachusetts the ability to legalize sports betting if it chooses. Now, it is up to state lawmakers to decide on whether or not real-world and online sports betting should come to Massachusetts.