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Gambling Opinion
Matt StevensonSeptember 29, 2015
February 02, 2018

NY State in Talks to Legalize Online Poker

Three states in the U.S. have legalized, regulated, and taxed online poker casinos: New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware. Could New York be next?

New Jersey legalized online poker in 2013 and has seen a big boost to state revenues since then. Their neighbor New York has kept a close eye on what’s happening across the border and are determined to get in on the action. New Jersey casino owners are also putting pressure on New York lawmakers to pass legislation similar to that of New Jersey. After all, they don’t want to fall behind in the national race towards online gambling legalization.

The gates standing between New York and legal online poker opened after the introduction of the 2013-2014 state budget bill. In it, the Senate used language that made its stance on regulated online gaming very clear. The bill stated: “The Senate supports authorizing and regulating Internet gaming for games of skill, including poker, to reflect recent changes in the classification of these games.” (SOURCE)

The “recent changes” they speak of refer to a man who was convicted to running poker games in New York for profit. A federal judge overturned that conviction, stating that poker is a “game of skill” and hence, it can be argued that it’s more of a competition than a purely odds-based form of gambling (such as slot machines).

The budget further stated that New York could stand to gain an estimated $100 million in its first year of regulated online gambling. At that time, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo made the indication that he would sign the bill as-is, along with all the language regarding online poker regulation. While the final version of the bill did not include the language, it still opened up the topic for serious discussion in the state.

Cuomo’s not the only New York lawmaker that supports online poker. Earlier this year, Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow of New York’s 89th district made a stand against Congress for considering a nationwide ban on all forms of online gambling. The bill known as RAWA has been reincarnated several times over by politicians who oppose online gambling for one reason or another. Pretlow wrote a blog on the site Roll Call to explain why he thinks banning online gambling is a step in the wrong direction.

The most captivating statement in Pretlow’s post states how the passage of RAWA would “prevent states from deciding for themselves how to regulate gaming and online lotteries, [and] prevent us from capturing the potential for economic growth these systems offer and tie the hands of our law enforcement when it comes to protecting consumers online.” (SOURCE) He goes on to explain how allowing online poker would help New York by “leveraging business opportunities” and cracking down fraud and illegal black market gambling already occurring in the state. In his concluding paragraphs, he makes a simple yet powerful statement: “Prohibition doesn’t work…”

It seems that other New York policy makers have started to realize that fact. Earlier this month, a member of the New York State Senate named John J. Bonacic held a formal hearing to discuss the future of online poker in the state. Bonacic sponsored a bill that would legalize, license and tax up to 10 online poker operators within New York. The bill explains that license holders would have to pay a one-time fee of $10 million as well as 15% of revenues as tax to the state.

The hearing included several big players from the New Jersey online gambling industry, including representatives from Caesar’s, MGM Resorts International, and Borgata Hotel & Casino. It’s no surprise these well-known casinos are putting pressure on New York to legalize so they can snap up licenses and get a piece of the pie. But also included in the hearing was the president of the New York Gaming Association, James Featherstonhaugh. The association represents several of New York’s big racetrack casinos. Featherstonhaugh argued that legalization of online poker could cut into the revenues of the state’s existing racetracks and casinos. He made the case that the online poker licenses should be given to the racetrack casinos to prevent this from happening (SOURCE). However, according to an article from the Washington Times, supporters like MGM argued that online gamblers are younger people that don’t frequent land-based casinos and racetracks, so any impact to those businesses would be limited (SOURCE).

All in all, proponents of online poker are hopeful that New York could soon legalize and regulate the industry. There’s no doubt that doing so would create a safe, controlled environment for gamblers to play and enjoy the game they love.

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