As a commonwealth state and the landing site of the Mayflower, Massachusetts has a rich history with gambling. It dates back to the mid-18th century, when the first public lotteries were authorized to cover the expenses associated with King George’s War. Lotteries in their modern form became legal in the early 1970s but it was not until 2011 that authorized casino gaming arrived in the state.
At the moment of writing, Massachusetts is home to three brick-and-mortar gaming venues. Wynn Resorts and Blue Tarp Redevelopment operate casino resorts in the cities of Everett and Springfield, while Penn National Gaming is responsible for the operation of a slot-only parlor in Plainville. The three venues support over 1,640 jobs and generated $1.02 billion in combined gross gaming revenue as of 2021.
Massachusetts lacks tribal gaming at the time of publication, although this might change in the future. Residents can legally place pari-mutuel wagers on horse races or engage in lotteries and charitable gaming.
Legal wagering on sports is still unavailable here – local punters must travel to neighboring states like New York and Connecticut to have a flutter. Authorized sportsbooks can soon arrive in Massachusetts, with several bills pending in the Commonwealth. Online gambling, including poker, remains illegal for the time being in nearly all of its forms except for daily fantasy sports.
Gambling Laws in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has had a turbulent history with gambling but this makes sense considering it started as a Puritan colony where even dancing was frowned upon. The Massachusetts Bay General Court adopted an ordinance as early as 1631 that prohibited gambling, stating that “all persons whatsoever that have cards, dice, or tables in their houses shall do away with them […] under pain of punishment”.
While a lot has changed since then, those who engage in unauthorized gambling activities in the Bay State are still subject to punishment. The Massachusetts General Court has authorized various forms of gambling under license, including charitable gaming, horse race betting, and state-sanctioned lotteries, all of which are available in landbased form. Commercial casinos are legal under the Expanded Gaming Act of 2011. The Massachusetts General Laws contain various provisions related to gambling and the sanctions for its unauthorized provision.
License Requirements for Commercial Gaming
1Minimum Required Capital
Class 1 applicants must meet several requirements to obtain commercial casino licenses. Interested parties must prove their financial suitability and consent to become licensed sales agents for the Massachusetts Lottery.
The threshold on the minimum required capital is $500 million for Class 1 licensees and $125 million for Class 2 licensees. A candidate must pay a fee of at least $400,000 upon submitting their application. License applicants cannot make financial contributions to persons who have been elected for state, county, or municipal positions.
2Local Community Approval
Additionally, the applicants must receive written approval from the communities of the areas they plan to operate gaming in. The host communities should also approve the candidates in a town referendum.
Negotiations with the neighboring communities are also necessary to mitigate the potential negative effects of the gambling operations in a given area. Obtaining Class 1 permits is possible by transfer provided that the new license holder gains the approval of most MGC members.
Applications are no longer accepted for Region B and Region A. If the Massachusetts regulator decides to launch new application procedures for Region C, the process could take roughly two years for the MGC to approve a licensee for this area.
3Casino Employee Registration
Casino employees must also register with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Licenses are required for dealers, slot machine managers, surveillance officers, cashiers, floorpersons, and the staff in the counting rooms, among other people involved in the gaming process.
4Gaming Vendor Licenses
The same applies to secondary and primary gaming vendors the licensed casinos work with. Primary vendors are those who supply, lease, distribute, and manufacture gaming equipment and devices for gambling operators. Such vendors must send a Letter of Intent to the Massachusetts regulator to declare their commitment of doing business with a given casino operator.
Paying a non-refundable application fee is also necessary. Since the background checks for primary vendors can be rather time-consuming, the companies have the option to submit a written request for the issuance of temporary permits with a duration of six months.
Gambling Fees and Taxes in Massachusetts
The licensee fees for authorized Class 1 casino resorts in Massachusetts amount to at least $85 million. The gambling operators should make a capital investment of $500 million or more. Casino resorts are taxed at a rate of 25% of their gross gambling revenue. They pay an additional $600 annual fee for every gambling machine they operate on their premises. Gaming suppliers are subject to a $15,000 license fee, which they must pay once every three years.
Plainridge Park Casino holds a Class 2 license, which enables it to operate a maximum of 1,250 slot machines. The license fee imposed on such facilities stands at $25 million, with minimum capital investment requirements of $125 million. The slot parlor contributes 49% of its net gaming revenue in the form of taxes.
Like the two casino resorts, the Plainridge Park facility is subject to annual fees of $600 for every slot it operates. All gross revenue taxes it pays go toward the Massachusetts General Local Aid Fund. Local towns and cities use the tax money to improve the infrastructure and fund police and fire protection services. The casinos’ tax money is allocated as follows:
|Allocation of Tax Money Collected from Class 1 Licensees|
|Transportation Infrastructure and Development Fund||15.00%|
|Commonwealth Stabilization Fund||10.00%|
|Community Mitigation Fund||6.50%|
|Gaming Economic Development Fund||9.50%|
|Local Capital Projects Fund||4.50%|
|Public Health Trust Fund||5.00%|
|Massachusetts Tourism Fund||1.00%|
|Race Horse Development Fund||2.50%|
|Massachusetts Cultural Council||2.00%|
Winning players from Massachusetts are subject to withholding tax rates of 5% under Section 3402 of the Internal Revenue Code. The withholding tax is in place for gambling profits in excess of $600. Players can deduct the gambling losses they incur at authorized casinos but only to the extent of their profits.
Player Protections and Responsible Gaming
1Legal Gambling Age
The 2011 Expanded Gaming Act prohibits licensed gambling operators from providing their services to persons under the legal age of 21. The restriction applies to all forms of gambling bar lotteries. Chapter 10, Section 29 of the Massachusetts General Laws disallows the sale of lottery tickets to individuals under the age of 18. The fines imposed on violators range from $100 to $500.
2Wagering Limits and PlayMyWay Incentive
The Expanded Gaming Act contains various provisions related to social responsibility and responsible gambling. Licensees that provide cashless betting services should enable players to set individual wagering limits for themselves.
The Plainridge Park slot facility offers the PlayMyWay incentive available to patrons who possess MyChoice cards. Inserting these cards into any of the available slot machines enables players to set up automatic notifications when they start to approach 50%, 75%, or 100% of their daily, weekly, or monthly limit. Once notified, they can choose to call it quits or continue playing. Those who enroll in the PlayMyWay incentive for the very first time are eligible for one-off food vouchers valued at $5.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission maintains a list of individuals prohibited from entering licensed gambling establishments. Convicted criminals, tax evaders, and persons with seedy reputation are all denied entrance when they end up on this list.
There is a separate exclusion list for those who acknowledge they have gambling problems and want to voluntarily bar themselves from the casinos. MGC licensees should not advertise their services to such problem gamblers and must refrain from offering them any complimentary items or privileges.
Players can self-exclude for half a year, a year, three years, five years, or perpetually. However, lifetime exclusion is only available to problem gamblers who have voluntarily excluded themselves for at least half a year in the past. Self-exclusion from casino gaming does not prohibit players from participating in the state lottery, however.
5The GameSense Initiative
The Massachusetts legislation requires all licensees to provide player education services in designated areas on their premises as part of the GameSense initiative. There, customers can learn about various misconceptions associated with gaming and the odds of the available games or simply have a break from betting. Applying for the self-exclusion list is also possible in the GameSense area.
Legal Status of Sports Betting in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is yet to join the ranks of states with legal wagering on professional and collegiate sports events. Sports betting remains illegal in the Commonwealth at the moment, with wagering on horse races being the only exception. Authorized racecourses can offer pari-mutuel betting on live horse races under Chapter 128A of the Massachusetts General Laws.
Online Gambling in Massachusetts
As you can probably tell by now, the Massachusetts gambling industry is yet to reach its full potential. The state has only three commercial gaming venues and no tribal-land casinos. Online gambling goes unauthorized in the Bay State for the time being. This applies to nearly all forms of interactive gambling, from online casinos to poker and sports wagering.
Daily fantasy sports are the only exception from the overall ban, with DraftKings and FanDuel being two of the biggest sportsbooks to accept customers from Massachusetts. The latter was among the first states in the country to authorize daily fantasy sports (DFS) under Session Law 2016, Chapter 219. Like regular gamblers, DFS players are subject to withholding taxes provided their winnings exceed $600.
Residents who seek to wager over the internet face two options. They can travel to a nearby state with regulated online gambling like Delaware and New Jersey or join one of the offshore sites that service US residents without authorization from the state authorities. The Massachusetts legislature has not adopted any technical measures to safeguard local players from unlicensed remote operators or block their access to such websites.
Who Regulates the Massachusetts Gambling Industry?
The 2011 Expanded Gaming Act led to the establishment of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), which regulates authorized gambling operations in the Bay State. The MGC consists of five full-time members and each of them serves a five-year term with the option of being reappointed afterward. The maximum term each commissioner can serve must not exceed ten years.
The Commission observes for compliance with the Expanded Gaming Act and issues the licenses of approved gambling operators. The Gaming Enforcement Division (GED) is part of the Attorney General’s Office and has the task of enforcing sanctions for violations of the state gambling laws. It conducts investigations into various gambling-related transgressions, including money laundering and corruption.
The Massachusetts brick-and-mortar gambling industry witnessed an expansion in the past decade. The state is presently home to two luxurious commercial casino resorts and a slot facility in Plainville with over 1,200 slots, video poker, and electronic gaming machines. State laws allow for the issuance of one more commercial casino license, which remains unclaimed at the moment of writing.
The Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park facilities have so far collectively contributed over $1 billion in tax money to the state. Online gambling remains unlawful for the time being, with daily fantasy sports being the only exemption from the general prohibition.
With that said, the situation is likely to take a positive turn in the future. Legal sports wagering has received support both from Governor Charlie Baker and the House of Representatives in the past. It only needs to overcome the obstacles in the Senate for locals to gain access to authorized online sportsbooks.