By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — The special commission that has been studying the ever-changing world of online gaming and gambling may be poised to recommend an all-inclusive approach to regulating the multi-facted industry.
With a July 31 reporting deadline approaching, the Special Commission on Online Gaming, Fantasy Sports Gaming and Daily Fantasy Sports met Tuesday to get a sense of where its members stand on issues discussed during public hearings.
“There are three options I think that we will look at,” Rep. Joseph Wagner, who co-chairs the commission, said. “There’s the gaming option, a type of structure where we have a separate law that would govern this; the omnibus approach, which is where we would give some authority some authority to oversee all of this; or to just simply let it play out for some time or more going forward.”
In the economic development bill passed by lawmakers the last day of July, “fantasy contests” were deemed legal, clearing up what had been something of a gray area around the wildly popular games. But the legal authority for fantasy contests is set to expire July 31, 2018, so the same law created the Special Commission on Online Gaming to help chart the best course forward and to investigate other online gaming like eSports.
Most commission members who shared their points of view Tuesday indicated that they would favor the omnibus approach.
“Our view is that the Legislature’s job is to determine whether or not we want gambling online to be legal, and if the answer to that is yes, which it sort of presumptively appears to be, then come up with a regulatory environment that can deal with all of these things as they come down the pike and not have to try to be in a reactive mode,” Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said.
Crosby said he would like to see an approach that is “broad brushed, very clear in terms of values and parameters and regulatory criteria” that could be delegated to an agency charged with oversight.
“And it could be the Gaming Commission, that makes a lot of sense. Though if it goes to somebody else it’s totally fine with us, we’re not invested in it one way or another,” he said. “Then give that agency really clear parameters of protection, what needs to be attended to for all these new gambling processes online, give them the ability to regulate and with the nimbleness and speed that is required.”
Sen. Jennifer Flanagan agreed with Crosby and said she thinks “a very broad approach to this would be best for Massachusetts.”
Hirak Shah, appointed to the commission as a representative of Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, said Tarr would likely agree that a broad approach is best so as not to stifle a potential new industry in the state.
If the commission is going to recommend that the Legislature make online casino gambling legal, Crosby said he thinks the casinos already licensed in Massachusetts should get the first crack at operating online here.
“If there is going to be a major change in the gaming world … the bricks and mortar people have to be attended to. Wynn is putting down $2.4 billion, MGM is putting in $1 billion and their economic interests, just to be fair, should be seriously considered,” he said. “Probably, we would think that online casino gaming — and we’ve got a definitional problem here — online casino gaming probably should be anchored in the bricks and mortar casinos.”
Representatives from the casino industry testified before the commission earlier this year and said that they would be OK with Massachusetts legalizing online gambling if an online presence is contingent upon holding one of maximum of three Massachusetts casino licenses or the single slot parlor license.
One thing that will not be part of the commission’s report is any recommendation related to the Massachusetts Lottery, which is pursuing authorization to offer its products online as it deals with increased competition from daily fantasy sports and casino gaming.
“We’re all well aware, but sometimes lost in the shuffle of this whole area is the Lottery,” Donoghue, the Senate co-chair of the commission, said. “That’s been mentioned a few times and I just want to stress that the legislative authorization for this commission did not include online lottery. That was not the provenance of this commission … we will not be looking at online lottery, not by choice but those were our marching orders, so to speak.”
Crosby noted that “figuring out how do we write a distinction between online lottery and online everything else is non-trivial.”
The commissioners were given until June 16 to submit final thoughts to Wagner and Donoghue, and they expect to meet in public once more to review a draft report ahead of the July 31 deadline.