Massachusetts Poker & Gambling Laws
Last Updated January 2, 2020
Massachusetts has played host to some of the biggest poker tournaments and cash games in the world – some legal, some probably a little less so given the state’s colorful history. Some of the biggest games of all, however, almost certainly took place in a bedroom, possibly a living room or home office – thanks to the innovation of online poker.
All of the major US-friendly poker sites accept players from the state of Massachusetts. If you want to play online poker in Massachusetts, we suggest you read the reviews on the linked page to find out which poker site is the right one for you.
The rest of this page discusses how people in Massachusetts play online poker, what Massachusetts law has to say about playing poker online and where it fits in with the state’s approach to gambling at large.
Most Recent Online Poker Happenings in Massachusetts
Going into 2019, Massachusetts remained one of the most likely states to legalize online gambling, but it did not happen. There was a bill proposed by Massachusetts Rep. Bradford Hill in January 2019 to regulate online gaming, daily fantasy sports, and sports betting, but it made no progress.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has been conducting in-depth research on all types of potential gambling expansion projects for the state over the past several years. Everything from economic and social impact to risks for specific groups of people, like military veterans. The eventual result of these studies could be comprehensive online gambling legislation.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts struggles with its land-based properties. MGM Springfield has underperformed since its opening in August 2018, and Encore Boston Harbor has suffered under the Wynn name and continuing legal troubles with the former CEO.
While online poker and casino games could provide additional revenue for the land-based casinos in the state – as has been proven helpful in New Jersey – lawmakers are awaiting the results of more studies before pursuing serious proposals to legalize those games.
To be fair, Massachusetts is giving the same serious consideration to sports betting. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is doing everything possible to expand gambling for the benefit of the state and without causing harm.
Massachusetts remains a likely state to consider online gambling again in 2020.
|State Code Section(s)||II.10.37-40; II.23K; XX.137; IV.271|
|Definitions||Gambling: The playing of a game by a patron of a gaming establishment.|
Game: A banking or percentage game played with cards, dice, tiles, dominoes or an electronic, electrical or mechanical device or machine played for money, property, checks, credit or any other representative of value which has been approved by the commission.
Gaming: Dealing, operating, carrying on, conducting, maintaining or exposing any game for pay.
Gaming device: An electronic, electrical or mechanical contrivance or machine used in connection with gaming or a game.
|Online Poker/Gambling||Several lawmakers and members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission support online poker and casino games. Bills in the past have not seen votes, but a 2018 omnibus gambling expansion bill may be considered this year or in 2019.|
|Live Poker||There are no live poker rooms but will be once the casinos are opened.|
|Casinos||There are no casinos in Massachusetts, but Native American tribes have been battling in court over their rights to open casinos. The Expanded Gaming Act of 2011 authorized three full-fledged casinos and one slot parlor, all of which are in process.|
|Sports Betting||A bill is under consideration in Massachusetts to legalize sports betting, and it is currently combined with online poker and casino games in a comprehensive bill to expand gambling.|
|DFS||A 2017 law legalized daily fantasy sports, but the legislature must pass a new bill to extend regulations beyond the trial period that ends in 2018.|
|Other Forms of Gambling||Horse and dog racing, on-track pari-mutuel betting, charitable gambling, lottery.|
Is Online Poker Legal in Massachusetts?
How does the law in Massachusetts treat poker players? Are players in violation of state law? Is it illegal to play online poker in Massachusetts? Some of the laws on the books in Massachusetts that pertain to gambling were authored well before the Internet was even a concept, so applying those laws to new technology can be a tricky endeavor.
The full text of Massachusetts law is linked below. We’ve excerpted and summarized some of the key points for online poker players in Massachusetts:
The term “lottery” means something different in Massachusetts law than in common useage. Basically, “lottery” is somewhat akin to what other state laws call “gambling.”
Massachusetts law uses the term “gaming” and not “gambling” in much (although not all) of the law. The definition of “gaming” is found in Chapter 4, Section 7: ““Gaming”, “illegal gaming” or “unlawful gaming” shall include every act punishable under any law relative to lotteries, policy lotteries or policy, the buying and selling of pools or registering of bets.” Note that the definition essentially treats “gaming” and “illegal gaming” as the same thing – all gaming is illegal unless otherwise specified.
There are a number of individual charges related both to participating in illegal gambling and operating illegal gambling. Gambling in a “public” place is illegal (Chapter 271, Section 2) as is keeping a gambling device and using a gambling device.
The law of Massachusetts doesn’t address Internet poker directly, but using a telephone “for gaming purposes” is illegal.
“Whoever uses a telephone […] for the purpose of accepting wagers or bets, or buying or selling of pools, or for placing all or any portion of a wager with another, upon the result of a trial or contest of skill, speed, or endurance of man, beast, bird, or machine, or upon the result of an athletic game or contest … shall be punished by a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year” (Chapter 271, Section 17A)
There are substantial penalties in store for individuals who operate an illegal gambling business of a certain size in Massachusetts. The charge of “organizing or promoting gambling facilities or services” (Chapter 271, Section 16A) can bring up to 15 years in state prison.
With stakes so high, players must seek out a qualified legal opinion before engaging in unregulated gambling activity. This page is not a substitute for such an opinion – it’s only intended to help you gain a basic understanding of Massachusetts gambling law.
Will Massachusetts Regulate Online Poker in 2020?
Eventually, Massachusetts will regulate online poker and casino games.
Massachusetts is very close to other East Coast states that offer online gambling or are preparing to launch sites to do so. In addition, the topic has been on the mind of legislators for years and the subject of closed-door discussions behind the scenes.
With studies likely showing the benefits of online gaming and the need to supplement land-based casino revenue, the next session or two in the Massachusetts legislature may finally show the results. A solid bill is likely in the coming years.
Massachusetts Gambling Facts
While gambling played a role in many of the early colonies, perhaps nowhere was the influence of bets and wagers more pronounced than Massachusetts. According to Gov. Deval Patrick , his dorm at Harvard was paid for by a lottery, as was local landmark Faneuil Hall. While the gambling roots run deep, there have also been long stretches of time during which no regulated gambling was available to residents. Today, gambling has resumed its place of prominence in the state, contributing hundreds of millions in revenue, wages and economic activity.
Famous Massachusetts Poker Players
As is the case with many poker players, many of Massachusetts’ finest cut their teeth in the game by playing online poker. But easy access to casinos on the East Coast also gave many the opportunity to play against a variety of opponents.
Daniel Colman is the Massachusetts native with the most live poker winnings to date, as he holds steady at $28.9 million. He is best known for taking most of the poker world by surprise when he won the 2014 WSOP Big One for One Drop, a $1 million buy-in tournament that awarded $15.3 million to the winner. He continued to play but remained a mystery to many fans, only to drop off the poker radar after 2017.
Dan Harrington is one of the most prolific poker pros in the business, not only garnering $6.6 million in live winnings but writing some of the preeminent books about poker. Harrington on Hold’em is a classic.
Even players who aren’t listed in the top ten owe a lot of their successes to online poker, like Ben Sulsky and Ronnie Bardah.
As of 2020, the star-studded list of top Massachusetts money earners in poker were:
1. Daniel Colman ($28.9 million)
2. Nick Petrangelo ($17.3 million)
3. Anthony Zinno ($9.7 million)
4. Jesse James Sylvia ($7.4 million)
5. Dan Harrington ($6.6 million)
6. Brian Altman ($3.7 million)
7. Curt Kohlberg ($3.3 million)
8. Jonathan Jaffe ($3.3 million)
9. Jesse Martin ($3.2 million)
10. David Paredes ($2.5 million)
Regulated Gambling Options in MA
Regulated gambling activities in MA run the gamut, from the state lottery to the multiple casinos (both commercial and tribal) that are spread across the state’s map. On top of those options, you also can engage in charitable gambling (when properly licensed) and pari-mutuel wagering year-round in Massachusetts.
What About Online Gambling?
Not yet, but all signs point to the state introducing some legal regulated online gambling options in the near future. We believe the lottery will likely come online first, but online poker could follow close behind. That is, for the moment, all hypothetical – as of this article, Massachusetts doesn’t have any online gambling regulated or licensed directly by the state.
All Poker and Gambling Laws by State
- April 9th, 2019
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- December 28th, 2018
Last year, the attempt to predict which states might join the ranks of those with legalized online poker was not very successful. In fact, only one state actually passed such legislation in 2018, but at the very last minute, on December 28, that state’s governor vetoed the bill. Oh, Michigan!Read Full
- September 28th, 2018
Online poker and gaming were never a certainty for Massachusetts, but there have been numerous signs in the past couple years indicating that lawmakers were working toward the legalization of online games. Several members of the state legislature have supported studies and bills, but there was one driving force behindRead Full
- September 1st, 2018
As the year progresses, it looks more and more like Massachusetts has a strong chance of legalizing online poker and other casino games in 2019. It could be sooner if a pending study is completed with favorable results, but considering the lateness of the legislative year and the upcoming NovemberRead Full
Sources & Citations For This Article on Massachusetts Online Poker
- General Laws: The 188th General Court of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
- Massachusetts Gaming Commission
- Massachusetts Council on Problem Gambling
- Office of Problem Gambling Services
- Massachusetts Game Sense: Self-Exclusion
- National Council on Problem Gambling (Massachusetts)
- Official State Website
- Massachusetts Legal Guide
- Massachusetts Gaming Enforcement Division