The Download: Cracking down on gambling

As everyone knows, slot machines and casino gambling haven’t been approved by the Massachusetts Legislature. But what most people don’t know is that devices that closely resemble slot machines have been popping up in small shops across the state for the past few years, sidestepping the legal ban by masquerading as sweepstakes.

Some of the shops are cyber cafes, where patrons buy Internet access and then get to play what are essentially video slot machines with real payouts. Other shops sell phone cards in conjunction with the chance to win cash prizes by playing video slots or poker.

CommonWealth offered a good overview of the situation last August. In the new spring issue, which will be out next week, the magazine details how the state Lottery, which offers officially sanctioned gambling, was so concerned about the machines it told its agents that their licenses would be terminated if they tried to sell scratch tickets and numbers while also operating the slot-like devices.

Local police and politicians have been complaining to Attorney General Martha Coakley for more than a year, and she responded yesterday with regulations covering “illegal lotteries, sweepstakes, and de facto gambling establishments.”

The regulations walk a fine legal line. They essentially say it is legal to sell a good or service in connection with the chance to win a prize, but it becomes illegal “where a gambling purpose predominates over the bona fide sale of bona fide goods and services.”

Coakley’s regulations include criteria for determining whether the gambling purpose predominates, things like whether the good or service is actually used by customers, the manner in which the business is advertised, and whether a customer can play for free and still win a prize. The goal, apparently, is to distinguish between the storefront slot machine operators and the sweepstakes run by Jordan’s Furniture, McDonald’s, and cereal makers.

Perhaps because her regulations are a bit fuzzy and possibly vulnerable to court challenge, Coakley says she also plans to pursue legislation. One bill, filed by Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (no relation to the AG) of Springfield, is already pending.

Coverage of Coakley’s regulations was very parochial. The Herald News focuses on two cyber cafes owned by Fall River City Councilor Leo Pelletier. The Springfield Republican focuses on a Chicopee establishment. The Worcester Telegram’s story deals with two cyber cafés in town. The Boston Herald quoted the attorney general’s office as saying the phone card video gambling terminals are being operated by about 170 Lottery agents, although that number seems high and conflicts with statistics cited in a court suit against the Lottery by a company selling the phone card “slot” machines.

                                                                                                                                                                            –BRUCE MOHL


Gov. Deval Patrick bristled at comments from some members of the Governor’s Council who suggested his nomination of Appeals Court Judge Barbara Lenk to the Supreme Judicial Court was motivated by the fact that she is gay.

Senate President Therese Murray said she wants to see swift action on Patrick’s proposed health care payment reform legislation, breaking with House Speaker Robert DeLeo who has put review of the bill on a slow track.

Former House Speaker Sal DiMasi wants jurors in his upcoming corruption trial to know his family could lose its home if he’s convicted, according to a court filing, a move that prosecutors said smells of a plot to encourage jury nullification.

Two Beacon Hill watchdogs concerned with skyrocketing municipal health care costs find themselves under attack by Robert Haynes, president of the state AFL-CIO. Ratcheting up his usual bluster a few notches, Haynes calls Mass. Taxpayers Foundation president Michael Widmer and Boston Foundation CEO Paul Grogan “shameless mouthpieces” for “big, shadowy business interests.”

The Boston Herald applauds an effort by Senate President Therese Murray to bring Bloomberg-style data measurement to state government.

Gov. Patrick‘s latest pension reform effort meets blowback.

David Bernstein sees a casino power play in Robert DeLeo‘s slow-moving House. 

MetroWest lawmakers push for a bill that would require state agencies to report on the job creation efforts of companies that receive tax incentives. State Auditor Suzanne Bump says tax credits tend to end up in a black box on Beacon Hill.


Officials say about 150,000 mortgages on file at the Southern Essex County Registry of Deeds have cloudy ownership due in part to an alleged scheme by a mortgage transfer company to avoid paying millions of dollars in fees, the Gloucester Times reports.

More allegations have surfaced of child sexual abuse at a Cape Cod summer camp, the Globe reports.

Kristen LaBrie, accused of withholding chemotherapy treatments from her autistic son, takes the stand. Here are stories from the Salem News and the Lynn Item.


Vicki Kennedy talks to the Globe in advance of today’s groundbreaking on Columbia Point for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.


CommonWealthPaul McMorrow tees up just how desperate the T’s financial condition is in his weekly Globe column.

MBTA General Manager Richard Davey gets an earful from commuter rail customers in Salem, the Salem News reports.


The Lowell Sun, in an editorial, examines how Tewksbury and Chelmsford respond to pressing – and costly – municipal needs.

The North Adams Transcript chides Adams selectmen for rejecting a meals tax.

Foxborough is delaying its annual Town Meeting so it can crunch the numbers on the effect of a proposed meals tax. 


State environmental officials dispute a number of claims about the Housatonic River made by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The state bans raw milk sales at a Framingham farm after high bacteria counts were found in the milk.

Cape residents question state environmental officials about the standards for new offshore wind projects.

The House votes to bar the EPA from monitoring industrial emissions linked to climate change. 


Two US senators want to begin disclosing what Medicare pays individual doctors; the payments are currently confidential. 

The Atlantic charts the evolution of US Rep. Paul Ryan‘s statements on Medicare. 


Springfield takes steps to deal with disruptive students on school buses.

A vote to ban smoking throughout the UMass Amherst campus draws opposition from some students.

The Springfield Republican wants to see western Massachusetts communities take steps to deter school superintendents from resigning mid-year.


WBUR tells the story of a baseball glove manufacturer – in Worcester. It also tracks down the original Green Monster.

The Boston Public Library is posting online a treasure trove of baseball photos from the collection of a former Boston Herald photographer – just in time for today’s Red Sox home opener, the Globe reports. Focusing on other eras in hardball history, rather than the start to this season, seems like a healthy activity.


A GlobalPost journalist is taken prisoner in Libya, NECN reports.


The Globe reports on federal offices and workers in Massachusetts bracing for a possible government shutdown. Policy fights – over abortion and the EPA – are dragging down 11th-hour budget negotiations.

Sixth graders in the small western Massachusetts town of Colrain could be facing a very dark vacation trip to Washington next week if all the sites they planned on visiting are closed down. And the sights they figured to take in on the way down, such as the Statue of Liberty and the US Mint in Philadelphia, would be affected as well.

Redistricting meets lobbying and fundraising. 


How a hit Broadway musical might influence the presidential race and catapult Mitt Romney into the White House…or not.

Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr, a former state senator, faces an uphill battle with local Democratic power brokers in his campaign to unseat US Rep. John Olver.


Washington, DC, will lead the nation in legalizing online poker, picking a fight with the federal government in the process. 


Local officials, area police, and advocates for drug abuse treatment testified at a Quincy hearing of the Legislature’s Committee on Substance Abuse and Mental Health about the need for more attention and resources to battle the growing scourge of drug addiction on the South Shore.


Less really is more, apparently. WBUR promised to cancel its June fundraising appeal if listeners donated $1 million during last month’s fundraising drive. The call to arms raised $1.4 million, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nearly twice the amount raised in the previous March, traditionally the slowest time for donations.


The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, in the actual home where someone gave the Fall River spinster’s stepmom and dad 81 total whacks with an axe, will be featured on an upcoming segment of the weekend Today show.


Before she became a culinary icon, Julia Child and her husband Paul were spies for the Office of Strategic Service, the precursor of the CIA, and now a new book explores that covert part of her life.

Want to get The Download delivered immediately to your inbox or Reader? Sign up for the RSS Feed.