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April 9, 2018

Is Online Poker Coming to the Empire State?

by John_A

Thumbs up to NY Online Poker Bill after Committee Vote

USA online poker is fast gaining traction along the East Coast. New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania have legalized online poker, and New York lawmakers are looking to plug a gaping hole in gaming revenues that has resulted in $1 billion of New York gaming cash flooding into neighboring states. Lawmakers are hoping that the third time is a charm for a possible online poker deal. For years, New York has failed to advance legislation in the New York assembly. The Senate has no problem with online poker, but there has been little interest in the other legislative chamber.

In fact, various lawmakers in the Empire State are considering dual options: sports betting and online poker. Pundits are hoping that New Jersey’s showdown with the Supreme Court will bear fruit. If the Garden State gains the green light to offer online sports betting, this will pave the way for regulated gaming across the US. However, New York state law is complicated. In order to authorize online gaming activity such as online sports betting or online poker, a constitutional amendment is needed. The only workaround is if poker is deemed a game of skill, and not a game of chance. If the words gambling or games of chance are removed from the literature, it could be approved without a constitutional amendment.

Committee Vote Approved

The New York Senate held a quick committee vote on the online poker bill and approved it without hesitation. The RGWC (Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee) approved a measure to send the bill to the SFC (Senate Finance Committee). GOP Senator John Bonacic is leading the way and is hopeful that the online poker bill will pass through the Senate this year. However, it is unclear whether the New York Assembly will vote on this poker bill. Lawmakers like Bonacic are pushing this bill as a way for New York casinos to make good on their revenue streams. GGR (Gross Gambling Revenues) have been falling for New York casinos for quite some time. The approval of online poker legislation could bolster revenue and help the state.

Gary Pretlow, and assemblyman in charge of the Racing and Wagering Committee in the New York assembly supports the current poker bill. However, the success of New York’s impending online poker legislation could hinge on something entirely different – the Resorts World Catskills Casino. This $1.2 billion casino project will be open for business this month, and will feature an expansive selection of table games, roulette, slots, and video poker machines. It was part of a large group of Vegas-style developments approved by the New York legislature in 2013. The Empire State moved swiftly to fast-track approval of licensing and development of additional casinos to prevent the outflow of some $1 billion worth of New York gaming revenue to neighboring states. Currently, New York lawmakers are only contemplating online poker, not online casino games.

There are several ways that New York lawmakers can include online poker and/or online sports betting in the state without changing the constitution. One of them is through a referendum which is what happened with sports betting at commercial casinos. A successful referendum would ensure that online poker and online sports betting could gain a foothold in New York State. By joining online poker and sports betting, it may be easier to push legislation through both chambers. This is crucial if the state wishes to pass mobile betting and not just sports betting at Native American casinos in the state. With the momentum of online gaming legislation sweeping across the East Coast, New York state could soon be voting on a package deal to approve poker and sports betting. Several other states including Rhode Island, and Illinois are also contemplating an expansion of the gambling industry.

What Challenges Currently Exist in New York State?

A major lawsuit is currently underway in New York to try and prevent DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) betting. If this lawsuit proves successful in the New York State Supreme Court, it is likely that DFS will be ruled a gambling game and not a game of skill. According to proponents of the lawsuit, daily fantasy sports betting is gambling and is prohibited. The other side of the argument is that it is within the government’s purview to determine what is categorized as gambling. If DFS is permitted, opponents argue that it violates the New York Constitution.

The other legal issue is online poker. It has had no problem in the New York Senate, but it continues to meet stiff opposition in the Assembly. No votes have been passed in favor of online poker for several legislative sessions. Among the many reasons why online poker has fallen on deaf ears is the opposition against it by female legislators. Regardless, there is a slim chance that both forms of online betting will be included in a state budget with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

New York desperately needs the tax dollars but pending the SCOTUS outcome it may not be a good idea to preemptively bank on sports betting in the state. A decision is expected by the Supreme Court of the United States in the summer of 2018. If it gets the green light from the Supreme Court justices, online sports betting could provide significant momentum for legal online gambling across the United States

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