Massachusetts law about fortune tellers

A compilation of laws, cases, and web sources on fortune tellers law.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.140, § 185I Fortune tellers licensing. Issued by cities and towns. Requires 1 year residence in city or town where license is granted.

MGL c.266 § 75 Obtaining property by trick. Prohibits fraudulently taking money by "pretended fortune telling."

Selected case law

Argello v. City of Lincoln, 143 F.3d 1152 (1998)
This case is from Nebraska, but is interesting for its reasoning in concluding that fortune telling is protected under the First Amendment. "If the citizens of Lincoln wish to have their fortunes told, or to believe in palm-reading or phrenology, they are free to do so under our system of government, and to patronize establishments or "professionals" who purport to be versed in such arts. Government is not free to declare certain beliefs — for example, that someone can see into the future — forbidden. Citizens are at liberty to believe that the earth is flat, that magic is real, and that some people are prophets."

Talamo v. Providence Board of Selectmen, Civ. Action No. 83-1195-MA, US Dist. Ct., Mass., 1983
Federal District Court held that law requiring 1-year residence in order to obtain a fortune teller license violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Web sources

How do you license a fortune teller?, Commonwealth Magazine, October 2018.
Provides a light-hearted look at the licensing of fortune tellers in Massachusetts.

Seeing it coming since 1945: state bans and regulations of crafty sciences speech and activity, by Christine Corcos, Louisiana State University Law Center, 2014.  
"Crafty sciences practitioners" are fortune tellers, palm readers, astrologers, and the like.

Fortune Telling, by David L. Hudson, Jr. The First Amendment Encyclopedia, Free Speech Center, Middle Tennessee University, 2017.
A review of recent federal cases regarding fortune telling and issues of free speech, consumer protection and municipal regulations.

Fortune telling licenses fly under the radar, Worcester Magazine, April 2017.

One practitioner’s account on licensure in the city of Worcester.

Print sources

"Did fortune tellers see this coming? Spiritual counseling, professional speech and the first amendment", 83 Miss. L.J. 639 (2014). Available from document delivery service

"Regulation of astrology, clairvoyancy, fortunetelling, and the like," 91 ALR 3d 766 (1979 w/updates)

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Online

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Last updated: June 1, 2022
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