There’s no better time to slip in legal changes that avoid major scrutiny than the end-of-year informal sessions on Beacon Hill. On Christmas Eve, the state Senate quietly added an amendment to a banking reform bill that would change current legislation banning ATMs operating inside casinos, and give the state’s Gaming Commission the authority to regulate the placement of such cash machines. It is a misguided move, and the clandestine attempt to change the law underscores the fact that it holds potentially harmful consequences for consumers. Clearly, any law that allows ATMs in casinos requires serious public debate.
The amendment addresses a 1981 banking law that has banned ATMs from being located where legalized gambling occurs in Massachusetts, except for the state lottery. But the statute only applied to state-chartered banks, so the 1981 law required updating. The amendment does ban ATMs on the gambling floor and authorizes the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to regulate where else on the premises the ATMs would be located.
Perhaps more confusing to anti-gambling advocates is that the language of the amendment seems to leave out ATMs that are run by private companies — not banks. These machines provide a steady stream of data on gamblers — including out-of-control gamblers who repeatedly make withdrawals. That data can be sold to casinos looking to hone their marketing.
The law that expanded gaming in Massachusetts was praised as a model gambling bill that was supposed to do gaming the right way. But an 11th-hour amendment only undermines the transparency necessary for sound policy around gaming.
The state House of Representatives should reject the amendment in favor of a more transparent process. Tough questions need to be openly debated: Should the Commonwealth ban all ATMs from casinos and adjacent hotels and restaurants? Should a withdrawal limit be enacted? If lawmakers really want to advocate for responsible gaming and curb impulse gambling, then the Legislature should spare its constituents the political sleight of hand and instead engage in serious policy-making.