In New York, a state in the throes of the biggest expansion of land-based gaming in its history, both houses of the Legislature are also considering bills calling for the legalization of online poker.
Assembly Bill A9509, introduced by J. Gary Pretlow, a veteran Democrat who represents a district just north of New York City, would reclassify poker as a game of skill and authorize up to 10 licenses for operators wishing to offer Texas Hold ’Em and Omaha. The licenses would cost $10 million each and carry a 15% tax on revenue.
The bill mirrors a bill introduced in the Senate in March which specifically lists Hold ’Em and Omaha as permissible games but does not rule out other games such as Seven Card Stud if approved by regulators.
Both bills also contain a so-called bad actor clause banning participation by operators that took bets from U.S. players after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006.
It’s likely the neighboring state of New Jersey would be one of these. Results have been disappointing from the online operations launched by Atlantic City’s casinos last November, and a crack at New York’s population of 20 million, the fourth largest in the country, could provide a huge lift. The same is likely to apply to Nevada and Delaware, the other two states offering legal online gambling. With fewer than 3 million residents between them, they’ve generated similarly modest returns from their respective markets.
It’s possible, too, that Pennsylvania, New York’s other neighbor to the south, could be joining in with its sizable population of 12 million-plus, the sixth largest in the nation.
It’s a lot of money for a state that is concerned about diminishing returns from its bricks-and-mortar industry as more casinos sprout up across the Northeast. Maryland will be home to least four over the next couple of years, and 22 bidders have entered the running for seven new casinos in New York, including several targeted for an area a couple of hours’ drive from Manhattan in the Catskills counties represented by Bonacic.
A bill muscled into the U.S. Congress earlier this year by casino mogul and heavyweight Republican donor Sheldon Adelson seeks to close any loopholes UIGEA might have left open and impose a blanket national ban on Internet gambling of all forms in line with Adelson’s determination to stamp out an industry he considers a social evil. It’s not expected to have much traction in Washington. It’s vociferously opposed by most state governments, for one thing. They’ve traditionally have held sway over gambling laws within their jurisdictions, and they’re looking in increasing numbers for the tax boost the internet could provide. Including New York and Pennsylvania, about a dozen states to date are considering legislation similar to what Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have in place, and the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, a group representing the nation’s existing land-based markets, is working to craft a set of cross-state guidelines to aid them in addressing some of the thornier issues surrounding player protection, location verification, licensing and payment processing.
Earlier this month, the Democratic Policy Committee of the House of Representatives concluded a positive round of hearings highlighted by testimony form the executive director of the state Gaming Control Board, who assured the panel that internet gambling “can be effectively regulated”.
The momentum should continue to build, with Republican Kim Ward, who chairs the Senate’s Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, planning a hearing before her committee in June.