Massachusetts Lawmakers Mull Over Legalizing Small-Stake Games at Senior Centers

Massachusetts Lawmakers Mull Over Legalizing Small-Stake Games at Senior CentersAlthough most forms of gambling are legal in Massachusetts, lawmakers consider regulating small-stake games at senior centers. State Representatives Angelo Puppolo and Brian M. Ashe have introduced two bills seeking to legalize various card games at senior centers. Both measures include guardrails in the form of a maximum win per session and a cap on the amount an individual can wager.

What are the Key Provisions of the Bills Seeking to Legalize Small-Stake Games at Senior Centers?

State Reps. Angelo Puppolo is the author of House Bill 1724, which seeks to regulate well-liked card games, including poker, pinochle, bridge, rummy, canasta, hearts, domino, cribbage, and recreational bingo at senior centers. Puppolo’s legislative effort was discussed at a public hearing of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary last Tuesday.

After the meeting, Puppolo said that older adults would not become millionaires playing small-stake games. He added that the purpose of the bill is to add a little more thrill for the elderly people. State Sen. James B. Eldridge, chair of the Judiciary Committee, admitted that he was not acquainted with the issue at senior centers and thanked Puppolo for rolling out the bill.

The Ashe bill aims to legalize limited gambling at senior centers. The legislation stipulates that individuals would be allowed to wager a maximum of $5 per session or up to $20 per single game or session. If approved, the bill would impose a cap of $50 on the maximum win. Puppolo and Ashe’s bills each have a dozen of co-sponsors.

Senator John Velis has also filed legislation similar to Puppolo’s bill in the Senate. In a statement, the lawmaker explained that low-stakes games are legal under Massachusetts law, hence why he introduced the bill.

The Proposal Prompted Mixed Reactions From Older Adults and Senior Center Leaders

State Rep. Bud L. Williams supports Puppolo’s bill, explaining that it would bring back a form of entertainment that is quite popular among seniors. Many elderly people at local centers support the legislative measures filed by Puppolo, Ashe, and Velis. Joseph Russo, a patron at the Agawam Senior Center, said that card games have a social aspect. He noted that the purpose of senior centers is to bring elderly people together and let them communicate.

Cathy Ferrero, a patron of the West Springfield Council on Aging, who previously organized pitch games at the Longmeadow Adult Center, decided to be more proactive in supporting Puppolo’s bill. She created a petition currently signed by 35 people. Ferrero’s goal is to collect 100 signatures in support of Puppolo’s bill.

However, the proposal also raised concerns among people who lead senior centers. Erin Koebler, director of the Council on Aging in East Longmeadow, said that she was unavailable and could not comment on the legalization of small-stake games at senior centers. Michael Squindo, executive director of the Agawam Senior Center, refrained from discussing the question because he needed approval from Agawam Mayor Bill Sapelli.

Marcia Crenshaw, a patron of the Raymond A. Jordan Senior Center in Springfield, opposed the legalization of small-stake games at senior centers, explaining that older adults rely on a limited income and that participating in gambling activities would be irresponsible. Two other patrons of the same senior center shared her opinion.