Massachusetts may not be the most appreciative state when it comes to gambling, but there are countless members of the Bay State who would love to resume participation in online poker activities that the US Department of Justice worked so hard to terminate in 2011. Not everyone in Massachusetts quit playing poker over the internet after Black Friday, but their options were greatly decreased, and the question of whether they are committing a crime by doing so is one that looms to this day.
Legality of Online Poker Massachusetts
Deciphering the laws of Massachusetts – many of which were originally inked with an antediluvian quill pen – isn’t the easiest thing to do. The majority of the state’s anti-gambling laws were written back before the internet even existed, and while some amendments have been passed in regards to ‘illegal gaming’, none of them pertain to ‘poker’ or the ‘internet’ directly.
What we do know is that Massachusetts claims it fair share of tax revenue from state regulated wagering facilities. There is a multitude of horse racing tracks and a few greyhound race parks in the area. They run a state regulated lottery and, if you don’t have problems with seasickness, there’s a casino boat that offers slots and table games while adrift on the bay. But aside from that, all forms of casino gambling are currently illegal.
In order to come to any decisive conclusion in regards to whether online poker is legal in Massachusetts, we will examine the statutes as they pertain to gambling. We will also discuss the possibility of future online poker regulation in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts General Laws – Gambling
The laws of Massachusetts are not categorically grouped as they are in most states, so we had to jump around from section to section to pick apart those that may be construed as online poker laws. The following is a list of excerpts from the Massachusetts General Laws.
MGL Part 1, Title 1, Chapter 4, Section 7: Definitions
Tenth, “Illegal gaming,” a banking or percentage game played with cards, dice, tiles or dominoes, or an electronic, electrical or mechanical device or machine for money, property, checks, credit or any representative of value, but excluding: (i) a lottery game conducted by the state lottery commission, under sections 24, 24A and 27 of chapter 10; (ii) a game conducted under chapter 23K; (iii) pari-mutuel wagering on horse races under chapters 128A and 128C and greyhound races under said chapter 128C; (iv) a game of bingo conducted under chapter 271; and (v) charitable gaming conducted under said chapter 271. [Note: Chapter 23k deals with all games licensed and regulated by the state.]
MGL Part 4, Title 1, Chapter 271, Section 2: Gaming or betting [Penalties]
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…
MGL Part 4, Title 1, Chapter 271, Section 17A: Telephone; use for gaming purposes
Whoever uses a telephone [for placing or accepting wagers, or knowingly permits another to use their telephone for that purpose] shall be punished by a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year; provided, however, that this section shall not apply to use of telephones or other devices or means to place wagers authorized pursuant to the provisions of section 5C of chapter 128A [state licensed horse/greyhound racing].
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Massachusetts?
The definition of illegal gaming is incredibly vague, but because certain forms of gaming are specifically exempt, it essentially enforces all other forms as being illegal. Thus playing poker for real money (or anything else of value) could be considered illegal in Massachusetts, unless it is specifically authorized and regulated by the state (which in the case of online poker, is not).
The penalty for illegal gaming, however, specifically applies to those in public places or private places where they are trespassing. Thus, by its own definition, this law does not criminalize the activity of sitting in your own home (or any other private place where you are welcome to be) and playing poker online.
The third section we included is an interesting one. It relates explicitly to “telephone” betting, which would directly criminalize mobile poker games over a cellular phone, despite the fact that the laws original intent was to prevent gamblers from calling their bookies and placing bets (or being a bookie accepting telephone bets). A prosecution team could attempt to present the case that “telephone betting” and “remote betting” are the same thing, much like when the US government called “remote betting” the same as “internet betting” in reference to the Federal Wire Act of 1961 (back in 2006 with the passage of the UIGEA). A good lawyer could probably get that argument thrown out of court, though.
In the end, it’s hard to say with 100% accuracy whether online poker is legal in Massachusetts, but it some seems pretty clear that there is no penalty for doing it, so long as you’re not in public place or trespassing at the time. However, because of the ambiguity of the Massachusetts General Laws, we advise speaking to a legal authority on the matter for an exact definition of the state’s online poker laws.
Is Massachusetts working to regulate online poker?
The history of accepted gambling activities shows that Massachusetts has been progressively amending its statutes to include more and more forms of legal wagering throughout the years. Governor Deval Patrick has been pushing for gaming expansion in Massachusetts since 2007. They are on the verge of officially approving a tribal casino compact between Patrick and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that would see the first tribal casino built on Massachusetts soil. In the greater scheme of things, it’s conceivable that Massachusetts online poker laws will come to fruition sooner than later. However, with other gambling related issues already on the docket, the subject of online poker has yet to become to topic of a drafted proposition in the Bay State.