New York State Online Poker Future Discussed In Key Committee Hearing

Posted on September 11th, 2015 by Alana Markoff
New York State online poker Senator John Bonacic

New York State online poker legislation was discussed at a key hearing on Wednesday. State Senator John Bonacic backs a pro-passage bill that’s on the table. (Image: Mike Groll/AP)

Could New York State online poker become a reality? It looks like the answer is a definite maybe.

The NY Senate’s Gaming, Racing & Wagering Committee hosted its equivalent of a cosy home game on Wednesday, with pro-gaming activists, casino reps, and state officials all pulling up a chair and bringing out their bankrolls.

Chaired by New York State Senator John J. Bonacic (R-42nd District), the public hearing, headed “To Discuss the Future of Online Poker in New York State,” kicked off with testimony by Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John A. Pappas.

Bonacic himself introduced a bill to the Senate back in May, which would pave the way for legalized online poker in the Empire State.

Pro-Poker Lobbyists Push For Protection

Pappas, a long-time proponent of regulated Internet poker in the US, highlighted the desire of pro-iGaming lobbyists to protect players rather than simply make gambling more available. Lobbyists in favor of online poker have long accepted that American citizens gamble online. The goal is to avoid the devastation seen after Black Friday when American players were left scrambling for funds from accounts at unregulated rooms.

“Any effort to regulate Internet poker should not be viewed as an expansion of gambling in New York,” Pappas said, “but rather as an opportunity to protect consumers.”

Casino chains like MGM Resorts, Caesars, and the Borgata were also represented at Wednesday’s hearing, as was the New York Gaming Association in the form of its president, James Featherstonhaugh. The president of Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, who has seen first-hand what regulated online gaming means for his state, was also on hand.

Anti-Gambling Coalition Dealt Snub

Anti-online poker activists like the Coalition Against Gambling in New York were vehement this week in their opposition to any proposed legislation. Snubbed by the hearing, where oral testimonies were by strict invitation only, the CAGNY reacted angrily to its omission from the proceedings.

“Mr. Bonacic acts as if legalizing Internet poker in New York state is a mere formality, like closing a business deal with allies,” it said. “Such arrogance should be called.

“Our focus today is on the wrongness of hearings that have nothing to do with whether Internet poker should be made legal and everything with ‘When do we start?'”

Bonacic Bill In the Balance

Bonacic is anxious for Internet gambling legislation to be passed in New York state. His bill, S 5302, would amend current racing legislation to allow certain online poker games to be included in the same laws. Online poker sites would have to stump up a $10 million license fee to operate, and they would be good for ten years. In addition, a 15 percent tax on Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) would be levied.

Unlike bills that have appeared in other states, there is no “bad actor” clause included in Bonacic’s bill. That means the way would be clear for any online poker sites caught up in the Black Friday indictments post-2011.

The bill, which marks the second attempt Bonacic has made to get an online poker measure through, states that various New York courts have deemed poker as a game of skill rather than chance. It’s this decision that could prove key to whether it sees ultimate passage.

Despite support for the bill, any decision on online poker in the Empire State looks highly unlikely within the year. The Senate won’t be able to take up the issue until the 2016 session, while regulatory concerns and worries over age and ID verification will likely mean some bumps in the road ahead for the Bonacic bill.

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