More details are emerging about the Poker Players Alliance involvement in the Massachusetts political debate on the introduction of two land casinos. The debate has attracted the attention of the online gambling industry because an Internet gambling ban was buried among the many clauses.
And incredibly, it seems there is the possibility that the ban was not deliberately included in the legislative proposal, but may have been inadvertently left in as a hangover from previously unsuccessful attempts to introduce land casinos to the New England state.
PPA reports indicate that an intense, 5 hour email campaign against the inclusion of the ban mobilised the estimated 25 000 poker players in Massachusetts so effectively that politicians asked the PPA to "call off the dogs" - a powerful illustration of the power of US players in persuading their political representatives to take a more considered view.
"We received commitments that the language would come out as high as the speaker's office," PPA executive director John Pappas revealed. "But until the language is out of the bill, we're a little gun-shy to say we achieved victory."
Giving politicians the benefit of the doubt, Pappas has opined that the inclusion of the ban may have been an honest mistake. The bill had been unsuccessfully aired twice in as many years, and the small anti-online gambling clause may have been included in the current effort in an inadvertent carry-over error. The PPA had been given assurances that the ban would not appear in the current proposal.
"It could be a cut-and-paste job, for lack of a better term, and ended up in the bill without the drafters recognizing there would be such a public outcry over its inclusion," Pappas said this week.
Passing the bill with the online gambling clause intact could have seriously prejudiced the state's chances of benefiting from Congressman Barney Frank's bid to legalise online gambling at the federal level, should this be successful. Ironically, Congressman Frank is a Democrat from Massachusetts.
"It certainly is odd," Pappas said. "We sent a letter this week to chairman Dempsey (of the Massachusetts Economic Development Committee) that highlighted that point. Not only is Barney Frank leading the effort to license and regulate it in Washington, but by doing this it would almost preclude Massachusetts from being part of that regulated structure -- and eliminate the opportunity to receive tax revenue from it -- if Frank is successful in his bill."
On Tuesday the bill, which was introduced by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, came in for some heavy debate as it was assailed by some 216 suggested amendments, most of which were aimed at guarding against problem gambling.
After debating the bill for about 11 hours, the House agreed to recess and take up the bill again today (Wednesday), reports The Republican newspaper.
During Tuesday's marathon session, House members shot down a series of proposed amendments, including measures to require a public hearing on the 172-page bill and to require bids for slot machines for tracks. Under the bill, the tracks would automatically get slot machines.
A seperate proposal by Democrat Rep. Rosemary Sandlin to guarantee a casino resort for Western Massachusetts was convincingly rejected during the first day of debate by 136-17. The House also voted 123-29 against a separate amendment by Republican Rep. Todd M. Smola to site a casino resort in Worcester County or in Western Massachusetts.
Another amendment introduced by Democrat Rep. Ruth B. Balser sought to create "a bill of rights" for casino patrons, including limiting a player's gambling losses to $500 a day, requiring the posting of signs on slot and other gambling machines that explain the odds and algorithms of the machines, and to mandate intervention by a state public health official if someone gambles more than 12 consecutive hours. The House voted 137-17 to defeat Balser's proposal.
Wednesday will likely see a vote on whether to approve DeLeo's bill to authorise two casino resorts and 750 slot machines for each of the state's two horse tracks and two former dog tracks.
DeLeo's bill calls for a five-member commission to licence and decide the locations of casinos. The bill is designed to capture 50 percent of the $1.1 billion Massachusetts residents are estimated to spend each year at casinos in Connecticut and race track casinos in Rhode Island. It is expected to increase tourism, generate tax revenue for state and local governments and create permanent service jobs. Estimated figures are that passage of the bill could generate $260 million in upfront licensing fees and eventually between $300 million and $500 million in annual tax revenues.
If approved in the House on Wednesday, the bill will head to the Senate, which voted in 2005 to approve slot machines at the tracks and is currently led by a president who supports casino resorts.
If Massachusetts approves casinos, it would join 12 other states with commercial casinos, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to the American Gaming Association in Washington, D.C. Twenty-nine states have Indian casinos, including Connecticut and New York, and 12 states have race track casinos, including Maine and Rhode Island.
The House on a voice vote approved an amendment to regulate gaming. The amendment includes a requirement to post "payback" statistics on slot machines showing how much of the money played through the machine will be returned to the players in the long run. It also mandates that casinos conduct regular checks of parking lots for children left in vehicles and that State Police and municipal police in a host community approve agreements for handling criminal investigations and emergency calls.
Current reports do not indicate whether the online gambling clause was debated or even included - this will perhaps be clarified in Wednesday's proceedings.