Massachusetts residents may no longer have to travel to Plainville or wait until the Everett and Springfield casinos open to play their luck of the draw. If some lawmakers have their way, residents may be able to gamble from the comfort of their home. State legislators are looking at the benefits of legalizing online gaming—including the additional tax revenue and the competitive leg up of attracting industry developers to the region.   

Stephen Crosby, chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, calls the prospect of online gaming a two-step procedure. “One is, should online gaming be legal in Massachusetts? That’s not up to us, that’s up to the legislature, pure and simple,” Crosby told Jim Braude on Greater Boston. “If it is legal, then we definitely have opinions on how it should be done, and we made recommendations. But we’re not lobbying in favor, nor are we against it. That’s not a decision for us to make.”

Asked whether he worries the easy access of online gambling could feed into addictive behavior, Crosby said he’s heard the same arguments against casinos, and that there are tools available to prevent excess, including ways to verify the players age and identity. “You can put in the same tools, you can put in an electronic tool that says, 'Do you want to keep playing?' So there are a host of devices just like the devices we are using in brick and mortar casinos where you can encourage responsible gaming and where you can discourage problem gaming.”  

The Springfield casino is slated to open in September of 2018 and the Everett one by June of 2019. Regarding whether he’s concerned about Connecticut building a casino a little over 10 miles from the Springfield MGM site, Crosby said, “If it happens, it will probably have an effect on the revenue to that casino, which will depress revenues to the state to some extent, but such is life, that’s America.” Were it not for casinos in Massachusetts, patrons would gamble their money elsewhere. “A lot of the money that they are losing, they were losing in other states,” Crosby said. “So, we’re bringing it back.”

“The more gaming facilities you have, the more gaming types you have, the more gambling there will be,” he said. “That’s one of the things the legislature will have to consider. There is this thing called the Starbucks effect, every time you put down a Starbucks, people drink more coffee.”  

Last week, Crosby offered his expertise to state legislators working on implementing the ballot initiative legalizing pot. At a hearing in front of the marijuana commission, he offered advice on how to execute a similar model for marijuana. “Which model do you want?” he asked. The kind “where one official appoints all members of the commission, or where the governor, the attorney general and the treasurer appoint the five commissioners, which we have so that no one person is responsible. In our case, I think the legislature felt that protected the appointing authorities, that protected the governor.”

As for whether it’s right that the legislature slow down the legalization process, he said it was. “They worked for 20 years to get the gaming commission law right," Crosby said. "And for them to think about how to get the marijuana commission law right, to stick with the basic legalization, but to think about tweaking it in a way that might be better in the interest of the people of the commonwealth – that seems perfectly reasonable to me.”