Mass. Tackling DFS, Online Lottery, Casino and Poker in 2017


Massachusetts has a lot of online gaming discussion on the table for next year

A number of states will be looking into legalizing and regulating different versions of online gaming in 2017. Some will look into legalizing and regulating online casino and/or online poker. Others will continue to look into legalizing, and in some cases prohibiting, daily fantasy sports. And still others will take a look at adding online lottery sales.

One state will be dealing with each and every one of these online gaming matters, Massachusetts.

Massachusetts will try to hit the trifecta in 2017

Massachusetts legalized daily fantasy sports this year, but the current regulations are temporary and will sunset in two years unless the legislature approves permanent regulations.

An online lottery bill crafted by Massachusetts State Treasurer Deb Goldberg has already been filed with the state legislature. A similar effort was passed by the Senate in July but eventually died in the House of Representatives.

Massachusetts has also convened a special panel, tasked with studying daily fantasy sports and online gambling, and making regulatory recommendations on both, separately or collectively.

With so much on its plate, the Bay State is shaping up to be a hub of online gaming discussion in 2017, and hopefully that discussion will lead to results.

Here’s a deeper dive into each of these issues.

Online lottery

Thanks to a push this summer, online lottery is much further along than online casino or poker, but passage in 2017 is far from a lock.

Earlier this year, Massachusetts State Senator Jennifer Flanagan introduced a bill that would legalize online lottery sales. This wasn’t Massachusetts first attempt at legalizing online lottery sales, but unlike previous efforts that never advanced past the talking phase, Flanagan’s bill elicited a flurry of late activity, and managed to pass the Senate, a historic moment for this type of legislation in Massachusetts.

As the legislative deadline approached, the House balked, and the 2016 session came to a close without online lottery being legalized in the Bay State.

The good news is, the progress made in 2016 is already sparking action for the 2017 legislative session. Even though we’re still in 2016, a 2017 online lottery bill, drafted by State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, has already been filed.

The bill would create robust regulations ranging from responsible gaming policies to insuring the proper age and geolocation verifications are in place. It would also leave most of the minutiae up to the Massachusetts Lottery Commission, granting it the power to approve and select what games would be available, as well as most of the other operational details, including setting prize amounts and payout methods.

Online poker/casino

Massachusetts has also seen its fair share of online gambling bills in past years, but these bills have gained little momentum, and have been more or less trial balloons.

That being said, online poker and online casino legalization could suddenly become a hot topic in the Bay State, perhaps reproducing online lottery’s 2016 progress.

Here’s why.

The DFS bill passed by the legislature this summer included a provision to study DFS and online gambling. The daily fantasy sports and online gambling study panel commissioned by the bill has already been assembled and held its first hearing. The panel is expected to meet every four to six weeks and must submit its recommendations to the legislature by July 31, which would give the legislature enough time to craft and pass a bill during the 2017 session.

It would be a tough lift to get an online gambling bill passed in this narrow window, but it could be done if the legislature takes the advice of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and sticks to common areas between the different products, leaving the more technical regulations up to the MGC.

Daily fantasy sports

On the daily fantasy sports front, Massachusetts is expected to introduce permanent regulations this year – although, if they decide to look at DFS as one part of a larger online gaming landscape, this could spill over into 2018.

The temporary regulations the state is currently using have been called the gold standard by many DFS watchers, so it’s more likely the legislature will tweak them rather than make sweeping changes.

The bigger question is if the study panel will recommend that the legislature tackle DFS and online gambling at the same time. If they do, which is likely based on the makeup of the study panel, the legislature will have three options to choose from:

  1. Ignore the study panel’s recommendations and deal with DFS as a standalone product;
  2. Work on an omnibus online gaming bill that would legalize online gambling and make DFS regulations permanent; or
  3. Do nothing and wait until 2018 to deal with DFS and/or online gambling.
  4. Bottom line: However this plays out, Massachusetts will keep online gambling supporters and watchers very busy in 2017.