New York

New York State Senators Propose Online Poker in Budget Plan

New YorkThe ever-expanding list of U.S. states whose lawmakers are currently proposing, considering, and/or passing online poker legislation now includes New York, as yesterday’s state budget discussions saw two New York state senators propose the state legalize online poker as a possible revenue source.

The proposal came as part of the budget plan adopted by the New York state senate yesterday. Among the many resolutions in the plan to cut spending and increase revenue there appears a proposal stating that “The Senate supports authorizing and regulating internet gaming for games of skill, including poker, to reflect recent changes in the classification of these games.”

According to Newsday, the proposal came via state senators Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and Dean Skolos (R-Rockville), with the lawmakers’ staffs having subsequently confirmed that the senators “rely on a state court ruling that determined poker is considered a ‘game of skill’ and not a legally prohibited ‘game of chance.'”

It isn’t clear what “state court ruling” is being alluded to by the senators’ staffers, as there has been no such ruling. It is possible the reference is to federal judge Jack Weinstein’s ruling from last August in a Brooklyn district court that poker was a game “predominated by skill rather than chance.” That ruling came in the context of tossing out the conviction of an underground poker club operator for having violated the Illegal Gambling Businesses Act (United States v. Dicristina).

However, in that very ruling the court affirmed that poker is indeed to be considered gambling according to New York state law, including an explicit statement that “poker contains a sufficient element of chance to constitute gambling under… [New York] state’s laws.”

In any case, another state senate source has further suggested that passing an online poker bill could result in the immediate collection of $100 million in licensing fees, as reported by the NY Post.

Much work remains, however, with many unresolved conflicts between the state assembly and senate and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over the budget still evident. A new state budget is due to be approved by April 1, although lawmakers are expected to do so by March 21 so as to avoid conflicts with Passover and Easter at month’s end.

The news of online poker potentially emerging as a topic under consideration by New York lawmakers comes amid a couple of intriguing contexts.

One, of course, is the emergence of several states’ lawmakers showing interest in following the lead of Nevada, Delaware, and most recently New Jersey as the first states to pass online gambling legislation. Numerous states are at various stages of such discussions, including California where yet another online poker bill has been recently introduced and Illinois where online poker came up in a recently-passed omnibus gambling expansion bill.

Another, New York-specific context is the current debate within the state over whether or not to open as many as seven new casinos within the state. After having debating that possibility for more than a decade, both houses adopted a constitutional amendment last year allowing for such, and if the present legislature does so again in time (as required), New York citizens will be voting on the amendment this November.

The passage of such an amendment would allow for the first non-Native American owned casinos to open in the state. Just this week, Gov. Cuomo stated his intention to have the first three casinos built upstate so as to give them a chance to succeed before any New York City casinos were opened.

While the introduction of new casinos in New York seems a genuine possibility, the chance of any online poker legislation being passed any time soon appears much less likely. Even so, as is the case elsewhere in the U.S. at present, poker and gambling are certainly on the minds of at least some legislators in the Empire State.

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