Wednesday, the Massachusetts House Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies voted 10-8 to reject Governor Deval Patrick's proposed bill to build three casinos and criminalize online poker in the state. The committee's vote followed Tuesday's marathon hearing, which included an hour-long plea by Patrick, and tips the scales towards the bill's ultimate defeat by the state's House of Representatives. The Massuchusetts House may vote on the bill as early as Thursday. If defeated, the bill won't be able to come back before the House again until next year.
Acknowledging the likely defeat of the bill, Governor Patrick told the committee, "I have no illusions about the plans in the House for this legislation. I am simply asking that an open debate begin, rather than end, today." After being notified of the committee's rejection of the casino bill, Patrick attributed the defeat to pressure from House Leaders and in particular, House Speaker House Salvatore F. DiMasi. DiMasi has been the bill's most outspoken critic, calling into question the bill's job-creation and revenue estimates.
The hearing was standing room only, rivaled only by the sea of the bill's opponents and supporters standing their ground outside the State House. Approximately three dozen poker players representing groups such as the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) and Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society (GPSTS) joined the throngs, motivated by the bill's proposed criminalization of online poker. "I don't think filling our expensive jail cells with poker players is what Massachusetts voters had in mind when they elected Deval Patrick," Harvard Professor and GPSTS founder Charles Nesson said.
Earlier this week, Nesson had an article in the Boston Herald recounting his unfulfilled quest to find the source of Massachusetts' online gambling ban verbiage. So far, no one has copped to the inclusion of this narrow provision in the casino bill and it has now has been added to the many mysteries surrounding the crafting and passage of gambling legislation in the US. PPA Executive Director John Pappas said of the provision, "We believe taking the extreme step of criminalizing online poker would be a strike against personal freedom, would tarnish the reputation of Massachusetts as a progressive state, and be opposed by millions of poker players around the country and world."
Critics of the bill can't rest just yet, but with the committee's vote of nonsupport, they may rest easier when the full House of Representatives votes.