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Massachusetts Approves Land-Based Casinos, Still Not Sold On Online Gambling

Even since the days it was known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has had residents who were not afraid to stir the pot when it came to politics. And although current lawmakers in the Bay State aren’t arguing the pros and cons of starting a new country, current Massachusetts legislators are definitely thinking of ways to boost the state’s revenue shortfalls with one of modern day’s most controversial yet potentially profitable forms of income–gambling.

Massachusetts currently permits charitable gaming, a state lottery, and pari-mutuel betting. Gambling in both commercial casinos and tribal casinos is also in the works. And while many states are weighing the issue, Massachusetts is on its second attempt at legislation allowing online poker.

In April 2018, Rep. Daniel Winslow once again supported an amendment that would allow online gambling. A similar bill made it through the House during the 2011 session, but died in the Senate. After being disappointed that the legislature did not see fit to include online gambling legislation in the state’s massive land-based gambling bill from the 2011 session, Winslow said Massachusetts should capitalize and be one of the first states to regulate such a potentially large revenue producer. “Massachusetts already has decided to legalizing gaming, so we should consider all options to maximize revenue and create new jobs,” Winslow said.[1]

Winslow’s online gambling proposal was attached to the November 2011 legislation that approved up to three new land-based casinos and one location that offers slot machines, but the bill did not pass until the online gambling amendment was unceremoniously dropped just before the legislature’s adjournment. [2]

Despite the legislature’s move to allow up to three casinos to be built, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is breaking down the numbers to see just how profitable three casinos could be, or if that many may oversaturate the region. The commission was to meet for a community forum to discuss the findings of two separate studies on the pros and cons of adding all three casinos and the slot parlor. Gaming commission chairman Stephen P. Crosby promised that the commission would examine the issue from every possible financial angle. “We are going to go back and look at all the economic projections, all the financial analysis and see whether or not the financial analysis that underpin that presumption still holds,“ Crosby said. Should the commission find that three casinos would be too many, “then that is something we’ll have to think about,” Crosby added.[3]

The state is also currently in compact negotiations with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, who have the groundwork in place to open Massachusetts’ first tribal casino, which will be located in Taunton. However, should the compact negotiations fail and no agreement be finalized between the state and the tribe by July 31, 2018, the gaming commission will have the power to seek bids for a commercial casino in southeastern Massachusetts. Even if a compact is reached, the tribe also will have to have their application for land in trust approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which could take a year or even longer.[4]

Puritans Don’t Really Live Here Anymore–Massachusetts’ History of Gambling

Puritan settlers brought with them many things to the Bay Colony, including their unwavering beliefs on just about everything. This included forbidding even the possession of dice, cards and tables, much less the thought of a person making a living by using them. But the 1600s brought changes even to Puritanical ways, and eventually even the colony slowly accepted certain forms of gambling–as long as it was for fun and not done as a means of making a living. One thing colonial Massachusetts didn’t get involved in was a state lottery. In fact, by 1833, Massachusetts had joined New York and Pennsylvania in a fight to stop state lotteries. The result was successful, and by 1860, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri, were the only states with lotteries. Massachusetts’s anti-gambling stance continued into the mid-twentieth century, as it was one of four states to vote against casino gambling in its 1950 election, with Arizona, California, and Montana being the other three.[5]

Massachusetts’ first turning point toward gambling came in 1934 when the creation of the State Racing Commission inspired the building of a thoroughbred track in East Boston. Suffolk Downs opened in July 1935, and it has been a gambling fixture ever since. Throughout its history the track has hosted such racing greats as Seabiscuit during the 1937 running of the Massachusetts Handicap, or the MassCap, as it is known, as well as modern-era thoroughbreds Cigar (1995-96) and Funny Cide (2004). Suffolk Downs enjoyed success until a two-year closure following the 1989 racing season. But the track reopened in 1992 and continues to run strong today. Suffolk Downs has a proposal in place to potentially be one of the three sites for a casino as recently permitted by the legislature.[6]

Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville opened its track in March of 1999. It offers harness racing, thoroughbred and greyhound racing from April through November. While most horse racing fans are used to the thoroughbred style of racing, harness racing at Plainridge uses standardbred horses that pull a two-wheeled cart, known as a sulky, with a driver sitting inside, around a 1-mile track. The horses wear equipment to keep them protected, and they run at either a pace or a trot. This style of horse racing became popular in the late 1700s, and by the early 1800s, harness tracks started popping up in the United States and Europe. The sport continues to thrive in the Bay State as it prepares to run its fourteenth season. Like Suffolk Downs, Plainridge has a proposal in place to be one of the potential sites for a commercial casino in Massachusetts.[7]

Jockeys going for the win at Plainridge Racecourse

In 1971, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided it needed a revenue boost, and its solution was the creation of the Massachusetts State Lottery. The first tickets were sold on April 6, 1972, and residents saw the perks a lottery could bring after seven people won $50,000 each. The Massachusetts Lottery has the distinction of being the first lottery in the nation to sell instant tickets in 1974. Throughout the next two decades, the lottery added games and watched revenue grow. By 1996, the Massachusetts Lottery became a part of “The Big Game,” a multi-state lottery involving Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Illinois and Michigan. By 2000, The Big Game became the Mega Millions and now has 10 states involved. And in 2010, Massachusetts began to offer Powerball. Since its inception, the Massachusetts Lottery has amassed $86 billion in sales and prizes to players totaling more than $58 billion. The state has received more than $18 billion in profits generated by the lottery. [8]

Success Of Land-Based Casinos And Persistence By Rep.Winslow Could Make A Difference In Future Of Online Gambling

While the Massachusetts Gaming Commission crunches the numbers and debates the feasibility of allowing up to three commercial casinos to be built, some state legislators are licking their wounds after a second attempt at passing online gambling legislation failed. But with the prospects of commercial casinos and a tribal casino, the continued success of two racetracks, the revenue staple the lottery has been for 40 years, and determined sponsorship of Internet gambling by Rep. Winslow, Massachusetts legislators may eventually be persuaded to expand gaming laws to include online gambling.


[1] Winslow antes up on poker in Massachusetts by the Sun Chronicle
[2] Massachusetts online gambling bill dropped –
[3] Gaming commission may not approve 3 land based casinos in Massachusetts –
[4] Tribal casino in Massachusetts still faces hurdles by the Taunton Daily Gazette
[5] A history of gambling in the United States – California Government Library
[6] History of the Suffolk Downs racetrack –
[7] Plainridge racecourse 1 potential choice of casino sites –
[8] History of the Massachusetts state lottery –