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MASSACHUSETTS MOVES ON ONLINE GAMBLING LEGALISATION
Saturday September 10,2011 : Amendment to existing legislation will make intrastate online poker legal
Massachusetts, already in the headlines over controversial legislation expanding its land gambling offers, hit the headlines again late Friday with news that State Representative Dan Winslow has filed an amendment to the Massachusetts gambling legislation to allow for Internet poker.
If his proposal is approved and implemented, it could produce a significant revenue source, and answer a pent up demand from Massachusetts gamblers for online services, Winslow said.
There was immediate opposition from state Treasurer Steven Grossman, who called the plan "reckless and irresponsible," as well as a violation of federal law.
"I did not want to let it go even one news cycle without expressing how strongly I feel about the recklessness and irresponsibility," Grossman said.
Winslow's amendment is within the window allowed for representatives to propose changes to the gambling bill, and it is expected to be discussed on Beacon Hill next Wednesday, Boston media reported
Winslow, a Republican from Norfolk, said the amendment fits nicely into the proposed gambling bill, which addresses casinos and slot machines. Adding Internet poker, he said, would maximise total revenue while creating more jobs.
"The gambling legislation has great potential to create jobs at casinos, and for construction. Internet poker has great potential for creating high-tech jobs, developing the software and also the regulatory software to ensure the integrity of the games," Winslow said.
"This one, I think, is a great opportunity for Massachusetts to take the lead. No state in the country has yet enacted legislation to authorize and regulate Internet poker," he added, revealing that he was inspired to file his amendment after talking with various experts in the field as part of his review of the gambling bill.
Similar proposals have been floated in New Jersey, Hawaii, Florida, California and Nevada but have not yet been implemented.
The New Jersey plan was initially approved by the Legislature there, but was vetoed by the governor, whilst in Nevada a law permitting online poker has been approved, but is conditional on federal government legalisation.
Winslow contends that poker is a game where skill is as important as chance.
He noted that internet poker is a fact of life in the state, but it is conducted by off-shore enterprises. Consequently, Winslow said, "there's no assurance of integrity."
With state-regulated Internet poker gambling, he said, "people would have confidence that it is a fair game."
The politician also appeared to advocate making the games available to a wide audience, saying: "The potential wouldn't be limited to the four corners of the Commonwealth. People world-over could participate in Massachusetts Internet poker."
However, he stressed there would be safeguards built in to ensure players are of an appropriate age, are not problem gamblers or try to access the games from states in which online poker is prohibited.
The Winslow proposal is that there should be five licenses to conduct Internet poker in Massachusetts, each with a life of five years. He proposes that, out of every pot that is bet, there would be a 10 percent "rake" - an administrative fee for running the game. The state's share of that would be 70 percent.
Continuing his attack on the proposal later, Grossman suggested that Winslow's plan would undercut the value of three land casino licenses that would be put out to bid on under pending gaming legislation.
"To toss five licenses in on a Friday afternoon at 3 o'clock that perhaps will be discussed next week without prior discussion with anybody in the Commonwealth that I know of who plays a leadership role in the gaming process ... seems to me to be both reckless and irresponsible," Grossman said.
"What I'm not open to is grandstanding by members of the Legislature who without any prior consultation decide they're going to do something ... whether it undermines the value of casino licenses or not."
Winslow forcefully rejected Grossman's concerns, arguing that his amendment - one of 154 filed by lawmakers by yesterday's deadline - was carefully crafted to "ensure integrity, prevent fraud and create high-tech jobs and increase revenue for Massachusetts."
"It's the exact opposite of recklessness," Winslow said.
"If the Democrats don't like last-minute amendments to their secret bills, maybe they ought to have the process be more open and transparent in the first place," Winslow added, alluding to the closed-door talks among Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo to establish the framework of expanded gambling legislation.
"It seems somewhat hypocritical, the Democrats complaining about the lack of consultation when this process was held entirely behind closed doors, excluding all but the top-level Democrats. Spare me complaints about process. We're doing the very best we can with very limited access we have."
Winslow's plan, if passed, would require the newly created Massachusetts Gaming Commission to develop model legislation and regulations for Internet poker by July 1 next year.
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