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Hopes were raised in the U.S. online poker community earlier this week when it was reported the New York Senate included a provision in its budget proposal that would legalize online poker in the Empire State.
And now, a recent article by Gambling Compliance has raised hopes even higher.
According to Gambling Compliance (paywall), the Chairman of the New York Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee, Gary Pretlow, is ready to tackle the issue, telling the industry trade publication he wanted to make sure the state’s land-based casinos were on board with such a proposal.
“I don’t want to throw any competition at them before they have opened their doors,” Pretlow told Gambling Compliance.
Pretlow went on to say, “If I can get assurances that the brick-and-mortar operations are all a part of it, then we will probably move the bill this year.”
Also of note in the Gambling Compliance article was the support of New York Gaming Association President James Featherstonhaugh, whose group represents the state’s racinos. Featherstonhaugh told GC the group’s concerns were addressed in the amended version of Senator John Bonacic’s online poker bill, S 5302-B, that was included in the senate’s budget.
Featherstonhaugh was skeptical of online poker’s potential impact to the state’s racinos at a hearing held in September of 2015.
At the hearing Featherstonhaugh testified, “Any expansion of gaming over the next 24-36 months would be severely negative.” His testimony was so alarming it caused most other witnesses at the hearing to go off script in order to refute some of his fears.
Online poker could find its way into the budget, which both houses must pass by March 31, or it could be taken up as a standalone bill, giving the legislature until June 30 to act.
Even if the online poker proposal is eventually removed from the budget and doesn’t pass as a standalone bill, its consideration could cause other states in the region to revisit their own online gaming legislation with a renewed sense of urgency.
Essentially, the unexpected online poker push in New York could help online gaming proponents in Pennsylvania make the case for legalization in 2016.
If other states are moving, Pennsylvania can’t sit on its hands.
The leading advocate for online gaming expansion in Pennsylvania is Representative John Payne, who chairs the House Gaming Oversight Committee. Payne introduced an online poker bill, HB 649, last year.
When he introduced his online poker bill in February of 2015, Payne made it clear that one of the key reasons he was pushing for online gaming legalization was to prevent an Atlantic City-type situation from occurring in Pennsylvania, something he reiterated when I spoke with him earlier this year.
“My mission statement is to keep gaming in general healthy, but in particular to make sure our casinos stay healthy and competitive against our surrounding states,” Payne told OnlinePokerReport.com last March.
Payne and Pennsylvania’s casino operators have reason to be nervous.
In addition to new competition in Maryland and Ohio, in the coming years, four casinos are set to open in New York and another two in Massachusetts.
On top of this, casino expansion beyond Atlantic City is going to New Jersey voters this November, and two of the three states with legal online gaming – Delaware and New Jersey – border Pennsylvania.
Payne’s fears are being realized, as Pennsylvania’s casino industry is certainly getting pressure from surrounding states.
New York beating Pennsylvania to the punch for online poker is precisely what Payne and other online gaming advocates in Pennsylvania are trying to avoid. This new, and seemingly quite serious push in both houses of the New York Legislature will likely light a fire under Pennsylvania lawmakers and the state’s casino stakeholders, potentially pushing online gaming across the finish line this year.
In this respect, efforts in New York could drive efforts in Pennsylvania, further driving efforts in New York, ad infinitum. This regional online gaming arms race could also spill over into other states in the region, such as Massachusetts and Connecticut.
It now appears online gaming proponents need to keep a watchful eye on both Pennsylvania and New York.