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Massachusetts Poker Laws

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massachusetts-stampIt’s always a good idea to start out with a state’s definition of gambling or illegal gambling, so here’s the definition provided in Massachusetts:

“Illegal gaming,” a banking or percentage game played with cards, dice, tiles or dominoes, or an electronic, electrical or mechanical device or machine for money, property, checks, credit or any representative of value, but excluding: (i) a lottery game conducted by the state lottery commission, under sections 24, 24A and 27 of chapter 10; (ii) a game conducted under chapter 23K; (iii) pari-mutuel wagering on horse races under chapters 128A and 128C and greyhound races under said chapter 128C; (iv) a game of bingo conducted under chapter 271; and (v) charitable gaming conducted under said chapter 271.” (1)

The first thing that jumps out at us from the perspective of poker is that this looks very similar to the poker laws in California and some other states as well, prohibiting gaming that is a banking or percentage game, yet California has the most real money online poker card rooms of any state in the country, and all of them operate outside of the banking or percentage scheme, as the card rooms charge players based upon time.

So there wouldn’t be any reason why such a scheme would not be permissible in Massachusetts, although no one has challenged this as of yet.

At this point all we have is the definition of this term, we still need to see where it fits in the law. In a state as conservative as Massachusetts, which still has laws on the books outlawing such things as fornication, adultery, and even blasphemy, we would expect that laws banning gambling would be both clear and strict.

As it turns out, this is not the case, as the law only addresses specific instances of gambling. For instance, you are not permitted to gamble in a public place, except as permitted by law. (2)

The rest of the criminal laws pertaining to gambling pertain not to gambling itself but in hosting gambling or operating gambling devices or places. There is even a law where illegal gambling is not permitted during church camp meetings (3), but all of these laws concern the apparatus or hosting of gambling essentially.

How This Pertains to Live & Online Poker

The only provision of any real interest as it may pertain to online poker is the section that prohibits using telephones for gaming purposes. (4) Some have interpreted this to include using other means of communication, the internet in particular, to transmit betting information. However, the lack of applicability of the Federal Wire Act to online poker, where it was found by the courts that the intention was to prohibit the transmission of sports betting info and not apply to all telecommunications involving betting, does provide some guidance here.

Common carriers are subject to constraints as far as their allowing their communications to be used for unlawful purposes, but in order for this to apply to online poker, there must be a finding of illegality in the first place.

So to sum up a bit, you can probably operate a card room if the manner in which it was run did not violate the definition of illegal gaming, there is certainly nothing in the law that prohibits gambling in general as we normally think of it, including gambling in private. There’s no good reason to suspect that gambling online would be illegal either, although that part is certainly subject to interpretation, especially if you are using a dial up service to the internet, although this would involve the use of a telephone line, but not a telephone per se, and the law does specify the use of a telephone specifically and not just the use of telephone lines.


Playing Poker In Massachusetts

There are currently not any live card rooms or live casinos in Massachusetts, but this may change, as the state legislature passed a bill back in 2011 authorizing the licensing and building of three casinos in the state.

These casinos have yet to be built though, and we will have to see whether any of them will offer live poker as well as casino action. There is also an Indian tribe within the state that is looking to build a casino as well, but this hasn’t been built yet either.

In spite of this bill passing, it continues to face fierce opposition, and voters will be going to the polls in the fall of 2014 to decide whether it should be repealed or not. (5) Should it be repealed, this would be a huge setback to permitting lawful casino gambling in the state.

There are several live poker rooms that residents of the state can travel to, and some are pretty handy, like those in neighboring New Hampshire and Connecticut.

Massachusetts is also one of the few states that are seriously considering passing a bill to allow online poker, although things are still in the works and there is still quite a bit of work to do in order to make that a reality, but it remains a real possibility in the coming few years.

In the mean time, there remains some very good options for those from Massachusetts who wish to enjoy all the fun that playing online poker provides. Here are our top recommended online poker sites for you:

Ignition Poker – they’re an industry leader in online poker (they just re-branded after buying the Bovada software) and is ready for you to play there right now if you are ready. They have both a poker room and an amazing online casino attached as well. Both the poker and casino side offer welcome bonuses of $1,000 each if you sign up for an account today.

America’s Cardroom – ACR is also eager to welcome you if you are from Massachusetts and also have a nice welcome package for you, including offer a signup bonus of up to $1,000 and access to one of the largest iPoker databases for online poker players.



(1) Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 4, Section 7, Definition of Statutory Terms; Statutory Construction

(2) Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 271, Section 2

(3) Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 272, Section 39

(4) Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 271, Section 17A

(5) Massachusetts Court Allows Public To Vote On Repealing Casino Law


About the Author

Sadonna Price
Author Sadonna is a mom of two and an avid poker player who also enjoys online casino games. She has been part of the online gambling industry for over a decade, working as a news and blog writer. Sadonna still plays Texas hold’em in her free time while her daily job revolves around providing insights into the online gambling world using her creativity and writing skills.