Massachusetts jackpot interceptor program may catch child support deadbeats

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission recently announced that it raised over $3.7 million in 2021 through the state’s “jackpot intercept” program.

Under the program created by state law, the three Massachusetts gambling licensees, in partnership with the commission’s Office of Investigation and Enforcement, check a database to determine if a winner of the jackpot owes back taxes to the state or alimony to an ex-spouse.

Any time someone wins a jackpot over $1,200 in slot machines or a table jackpot of $5,000 or that pays 300 to 1, that person’s name and social security number must be gone through the Department of Revenue to see if they owe any back taxes or child support.

Nineteen other states have similar programs. Nevada is not one of them.

No Nevada law yet

Nevada has yet to approve such a law, but it’s not for lack of trying. State lawmakers attempted to develop one with legislation being debated in March 2021.

Proponents of Assembly Bill 406 passed a section of the bill supporting the concept of intercepting jackpots to pay child support for delinquent children, but details of how this would be done were left for discussion. consideration in the next legislative session in 2023.

Testimony on last year’s bill indicated that the technology for the system could be ready this year and implementation details could be debated when the Legislative Assembly meets next January.

“Nevada’s child support enforcement program has more than 83,500 open child support cases,” said Cathy Kaplan, child support enforcement program manager for the Division of Social Services and support from the Department of Health and Social Services.

“Among these cases, there are more than 68,000 debtors who are behind on their child support obligations,” she said. “Existing law allows for the withholding of outstanding child support when a debtor wins a prize or lottery. However, there is currently no process for licensed gaming establishments to identify debtors in default and withhold their gambling winnings.”

Karen Cliffe, chief assistant attorney for the Clark County Attorney’s Office Family Support Division, cited the experience of Colorado casinos as a positive outcome of the institution of such legislation.

“For five years, Colorado casinos fought the legislation,” Cliffe said. “They made their first fundraiser on the day of its implementation. That same year, they raised $500,000. To date, more than $4 million has been raised.

She noted that the executive director of the Colorado Gaming Association initially opposed the legislation out of concern that reviewing child support before payment would be inconvenient. “However, their experience was the opposite,” she said. “It was a very smooth transition.”

Cliffe said the Nevada bill considered by the Assembly Judiciary Committee last year had two sections: one requiring the state Department of Health and Human Services to establish and maintain a secure registry for the purpose of withholding gambling winnings and the other amending Nevada’s revised statutes to include gambling winnings as funds that may be withheld to support a child.

Under the bill, “gambling winnings” are defined as winnings at a licensed gambling establishment that must be reported to the IRS on Form W-2G.

“Important company”

But others say the size and complexity of Nevada’s gambling industry makes such a law more difficult to implement.

The Nevada Resort Association, representing 77 casino companies statewide, recognized the benefit of a child support jackpot interception scheme, but disagreed with the project’s execution of law.

“Our concerns with AB406, as originally written, were centered on the details and logistics rather than the concept,” said Virginia Valentine, President and CEO of the NRA. “Due to the size and complexity of Nevada’s gaming industry compared to states with far fewer licensees, a reasonable first step would be for the state to develop a reliable and reliable computer system or database. secure and ensure that it works as intended with adequate data privacy protections before commissioning an untested system.

Valentine said once the system becomes operational, she recommends a pilot program to address any issues, such as proper controls and employee training, including who has access to sensitive information and impacts on licensees. in terms of personnel and operations.

“This is an important undertaking that needs to be done right from the start,” she said.

Former Nevada Gaming Control Board Chair Becky Harris, now a leading gaming and leadership scholar at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, said she was neither for nor against. Nevada legislation, but she highlighted some of the issues lawmakers will face.

“We haven’t done a study to see who actually wins our jackpots,” said Harris, who also served two legislative sessions as a state senator. “We are an international destination. That’s not to say in Massachusetts they don’t have international tours, but you can’t even compare Massachusetts to Nevada because they have three licensees, and when you look through restricted and unrestricted licenses (licensing in Nevada), we’re at nearly 3,000.

Harris also asked if casino properties should track child support debtors from other states and which casinos should withhold jackpots for progressive slot machine wins.

“It’s a whole different conversation when the question becomes who is going to be subject to this because we have progressive jackpots that go to all properties,” she said. “Who is going to be responsible for ensuring there is compliance? Is it the property where the jackpot hit, or is it the responsibility of all the properties that contributed to the jackpot? I’m sure they can understand that, but it seems to me that any legislation that deals with that will have to exempt international travelers and we’ll probably have to exempt out-of-state people because I don’t know how you require that Nevada licensees comply knowing what all the laws, guidelines, and child support arrears are in 50 states, not to mention the world.

Another question: if jackpot interceptions are in place, could this have a chilling effect on locals’ willingness to gamble?

“I think it becomes a challenge because we have a responsibility to make sure the games are fair, and part of the fairness of these games is that when you win, you get paid,” Harris said.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at [email protected] or 702-477-3893. To follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

Ryan H. Bowman