Internet poker enthusiasts in Massachusetts were recently surprised by an Internet poker amendment made by Rep. Daniel Winslow (R-Norfolk) to a bill that would expand gambling in the commonwealth. But a quick reading of the amendment shows that Massachusetts isn't in any hurry to lead the race to regulate the online poker industry.
The amendment would require the Massachusetts gaming commission to "establish a committee to analyze and develop recommendations and model legislation" to issue Internet poker licenses. That committee will also be required to "include an analysis of applicable federal and state law," in a report to be completed by the end of July 2012.
The amendment is a half-page addition in a 164-page bill, the bulk of which details how the state will implement casino-style gaming for the first time. In the scheme of things, it's a minor footnote. And since it doesn't actually change anything, it wasn't a provision that would cause proponents of the larger gambling bill to change their vote. (The bill passed in the House 123-32, and the Senate will take up debate on the legislation on Sept. 26.)
In order for Internet poker to become a licensed and regulated industry in the Bay State, the bill that passes in the Senate will have to include the same provision. If the amendment is dropped by the Senate, it isn't likely to be included in conference (the process that would iron out any discrepancies between to the two versions passed). And even if it does pass as is and Governor Deval Patrick signs it into law, there's no guarantee that the committee established by the gaming commission will come to the conclusion that Internet poker is a good bet in Massachusetts.
If the committee does recommend that the commonwealth go forward and license and regulate Internet poker operators, the legislature and the governor will still have to agree with the plan. Anyone who has followed the expanded gambling debate in Massachusetts over the past 10 years knows how difficult it is to pass expanded gambling legislation in the Bay State. And in previous attempts to pass gambling legislation, Internet gambling has been a target, not a goal, with stiff penalties for players. There are plenty of lawmakers in Massachusetts who don't want to see Internet gambling of any kind, even poker, made expressly available to residents.
Even if all the stars aligned and everyone agreed that it was a good idea and regulations were easily agreed upon, it's unlikely that Massachusetts residents would be shoving their virtual chips all-in
before 2013 at the earliest.
The fact that Internet poker is now up for debate — and that it wasn't expressly outlawed in draft gambling expansion legislation, as it has been in the past — is great news for online poker fans in Massachusetts. But the truth of the matter is the amendment that passed in the House is the first step of a high-wire journey; there's a long way to go to get to the other side, and one tiny crosswind could ruin any chance of success.