Will Mass. develop an omnibus approach to online gambling?
BOSTON >> The Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday voted 4-0 to appoint chairman Steve Crosby as its representative on a new panel that will study online gaming and daily fantasy sports in hopes of informing future policy decisions.
The special commission, created in economic development legislation that Gov. Charlie Baker signed in August, must hold its first meeting by Nov. 1. It will be led by Sen. Eileen Donoghue and Rep. Joseph Wagner, the chairs of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.
"Hopefully, this will be an opportunity for us to continue...the initiative that we've made about trying to come up with some omnibus legislation that will give the Legislature and then probably the Gaming Commission the tools to regulate all of online gaming," Crosby told his fellow gaming commissioners during their meeting on Thursday.
After daily fantasy sports burst into the public consciousness during the last NFL football season with the emergence of companies like the Massachusetts-based DraftKings, lawmakers expressed interest in regulating and possibly taxing the burgeoning industry.
Gaming commissioner Enrique Zuniga said daily fantasy sports gets most of the attention "given its popularity -- and it's, I suspect, going to get an uptick in terms of the attention with the football season starting." However, he said, it will be important for the special commission to take a broader look at various aspects of online gaming and "the intersection of play and gambling" over the internet.
The special commission will study the regulation of online gaming, fantasy sports gaming and daily fantasy sports, including "economic development, consumer protection, taxation, legal and regulatory structures, implications for existing gaming, burdens and benefits to the commonwealth and any other factors the commission deems relevant."
While New York has passed a law regulating daily fantasy sports and some states, including Michigan, offer online lottery programs, Crosby said Massachusetts would be "unique" if it could come up with a "really good omnibus approach."
"That hasn't really happened yet anywhere," he said.
The commission's other members will include a gubernatorial appointee with industry experience in fantasy sports gaming; an appointee of Attorney General Maura Healey with fantasy sports consumer protection experience; and appointees of Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Minority Leader Brad Jones.
The commission has until July 31, 2017 to submit to lawmakers its final report and recommendations for legislation. By law, it cannot "include in its review a comprehensive review of the state lottery or its ability to provide lottery products online or over the internet."
Pointing to stagnant instant ticket sales as more betters chose to wager on daily fantasy sports and other online games, Lottery officials have been seeking legislative authorization to offer their products on the internet. Efforts fell short this session, but the agency plans to renew its push next year.
In its version of the economic development bill that created the special commission, the Senate included a provision that would have allowed the Lottery to expand into cyberspace. The six-member House-Senate conference committee that worked out the final legislation dropped the measure before sending the bill to Baker's desk.
At the Gaming Commission meeting, Crosby suggested that he serve as the group's representative but said he expected to collaborate with the other commissioners and staff.
"This will be a group effort for sure but as to a formal designation, I thought that probably should be me," Crosby said.
Crosby abstained from the vote that put him on the panel, which was otherwise unanimous. Zuniga said Crosby would have the necessary knowledge and the "flexibility to pull in other members of the staff here for particular discrete areas of study."
Before the daily fantasy sports and online gaming commission was added to the economic development bill, lawmakers proposed similar commission in the fiscal 2017 budget they sent to Baker's desk at the end of June.
Though he would later let it stand as part of the economic development bill, Baker struck the commission from the budget, writing in his veto message that the issue had "already been examined by several state agencies, including the Attorney General's Office and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission."
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