Legal Poker in Massachusetts

A Guide to Poker in the State of Massachusetts

Mass Gambling Laws

In this guide to poker in Massachusetts first up you can find a brief rundown of regulations within the State. Then the question of whether or not poker is legal is addressed, followed by options for live poker players and the status of online poker.

The Recent Regulation of Gaming in Massachusetts

There has been very little historical gambling going on in Massachusetts, only pari-mutuel horse betting and the State lottery. The only option for poker players to compete in outside of friendly home games was to travel into Connecticut.

This started to change in 2008 when plans began to emerge for legal casinos. The first two attempts were declined then in 20011 Governor Deval Patrick agreed to a slots parlor. Following this some larger casino brands saw potential within and licenses were granted to MGM and the Hard Rock groups in 2013. These casinos are currently under construction and due to open in 2022 and 2016.

In addition, native tribes have pushed for permission to build casinos on their land, so it looks like other casinos may follow soon. Now the gambling “Ice Age” appears to have thawed there should be plenty of opportunities for legal poker soon within Massachusetts.

Is Poker Legal in Massachusetts?

Chapter 271 of state law covers gambling with a focus on betting rather than whether the game is skill or luck based. Therefore poker would be covered by this as there are many bets involved

Chapter 1 reads “…winning at one time or sitting, by gaming or betting on the sides or hands of those gaming, money or goods to the value of five dollars or more, and of receiving the same or security therefor…”

In 2005 the attorney general advised that “Section 17 of Chapter 271 prohibits anyone from registering bets, or buying or selling pools, on the result of poker hands, games or tournaments. Even a qualifying non-profit organization cannot operate a poker tournament in which players or spectators bet money or anything else of value on hands,”

While bets under $5 are exempt it is unclear whether this is individual bets or the total wagered I a pot. It must also be noted that since 2005 there have been many charity tournaments ran with no interference from the authorities. In the few cases of home games broken up by the police there are none which have resulted in charges for the players.

Live Poker games in Massachusetts

With work still underway on The Hard Rock and MGM casinos it is likely to be 2022/16 before you can find any legal poker rooms within Massachusetts. As these are big casino names, and there is little doubt the rooms will provide excellent facilities and offer some great poker action. Until then residents have to travel across to Connecticut to experience the fantastic poker rooms at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

Live games currently running include free bar leagues, which award small prizes donated by the organizers. Home games are also legal providing stakes are kept small and nobody makes a profit by raking the games or charging a fee.

How Online Stands Under Massachusetts Law

While there is nothing targeting online poker in the State’s Statutes, it is believed the current laws cover it enough to outlaw it. The case for this is strengthened by a clause in Massachusetts’ law prohibiting bets being placed via telephone lines. Despite this the State recognizes a large number of residents play on offshore sites and has shown no interest in pursuing them legally.

These offshore sites operate licensed and legal poker rooms in their own countries. They argue they can provide games to US citizens due to free trade laws. While the Federal government has been unable to stop residents playing on these sites, there have been measures taken to block financial transactions so you may find it hard to get money online.

Signs are encouraging for regulated online poker to arrive in Massachusetts. The 2014 fiscal year budget proposal contained a call from 18 State Representatives for the legalization and regulation of online poker. The proposal is based on the Nevada model where only online poker is legalized and there includes the thoughts of combining player pools with Nevada in a compact.

With a definite plan in place Massachusetts looks closer to regulating online poker than most other States, although this still has several stages to go through before it becomes a reality.

In Summary – Massachusetts Poker

Despite a long history of little or no gambling, Massachusetts now seems to have accelerated regulation and appears to be on the verge of a mini boom. With two major casinos due to open there doors in the next couple of years and positive voices for online regulation, the future looks bright for poker players there.