Could it be too good to be true? Massachusetts State Representative Dan Winslow recently filed an amendment to a gambling bill that would legalize online poker. Unlike online casino games, Winslow argues poker is a game of skill. This bill is also buttressed by the state’s desperate need to create new jobs and revenue for the government. What better way than to legalize online poker? It’s a good thought and definitely worth pursuing.
Massachusetts has a long and checkered history with respect to legalizing gambling within its borders. In the past three years, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick has made many efforts to convince the Commonwealth’s legislature that legalized casino gambling would be a boon to the state. Patrick cites the overwhelming success of casinos in its neighboring state Connecticut; Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Despite the rough economy, both operations have remained above water. This is in stark contrast to their Las Vegas counterparts who have had to issue walking papers to thousands of employees.
Patrick and a stalwart group of other Democrats believe casino gambling – built in the form of resort style destinations – could be a driving force behind reviving the state’s economy, in addition to providing much needed tax revenues. In fact, Uncasville Connecticut based Mohegan Sun has already expressed strong interest operating one of the state’s three new proposed casinos. This is actually a smart business move. Instead of waiting idly on the sidelines while its Massaschusetts customer base stops making trips down I-395, Mohegan Sun is expanding its operation to capture even more business. Two out-of-state development groups have also indicated interest in building the state’s two other casinos.
What does this mean for Rep. Winslow’s amendment that would legalize online poker? Despite the fact land based casinos and online casinos have notoriously been at odds with each other, legalized online poker emanating from Massachusetts would serve as a stepping stone towards eventual regulation and taxation at the Federal level. Some see Winslow’s overtures with skepticism, questioning whether or not the national government would allow up to five poker-only online gambling operations in Massachusetts. Winslow sees it differently: these new businesses would offer residents new jobs and the state treasury more income.
History teaches us that when one state legalizes what was once considered a vice activity other states eventually follow suit. In turn, this would give way to increased interest in other forms of online gambling, including online casinos and sportsbooks.
To be clear, the most likely type of gambling to follow legalized online poker would be online casino games. At present time, online sports betting is still considered too controversial to legalize. The NFL, NBA, and NCAA in addition to a slew of conservative lawmakers all oppose sports betting in any form. These powerful lobbies would keep online sports betting out of the USA for a long time, breathing life into the offshore sportsbook industry that operates outside the USA’s jurisdiction.
In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed and your eyes on Massachusetts. Legalized intrastate online poker would be an immediately profitable venture. Additionally it would allow many professional poker players another chance at making a living playing online after the infamous “Black Friday” debacle that closed three top online poker rooms and ostensibly put poker pros out of work. Soon enough, the doors to the USA’s first online poker rooms will open with legalized online casino games riding on poker’s coattails.
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