New York Online Poker Bill

New York Online Poker Hearing Draws Little Attention

Wednesday’s hearing in the New York State Legislature to discuss the future of online poker in the entire state turned out to be not much of a hearing at all — a sparsely-attended (by legislators) event featuring a short parade of potential stakeholders in the industry, simply laying the groundwork for future bills in subsequent years.

new-york-stampOfficially, the hearing was held in conjunction with New York State Senator John Bonacic’s S5302 online-poker bill.  Bonacic introduced the bill back in May, in which Internet poker would be legally recognized and regulated in the populous Empire State.

The truth, however, is that Bonacic’s bill isn’t going anywhere this year, and even though Bonacic announced the hearing last month, there was little advance build-up for the hearing, and no sign at all that it would feature some of the pro- vs. anti-online gambling fire and rhetoric that has marked similar hearings in other states.

The hearing itself, titled “Public Hearing: To Discuss the Future of Online Poker in New York State,” was held Wednesday afternoon in Albany before the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee that Sen. Bonacic himself chairs.  However, besides Bonacic, a Republican from the state’s 42nd Congressional district, only two of the committee’s other 11 members even bothered to attend.

Worse, according to reports such as one at, both of those other committee members departed for other State Senate business before the third of the hearing’s seven scheduled witnesses had even completed his testimony and presentation.  That meant that the majority of the attending witnesses were providing their work to Bonacic’s work alone, in official support of a bill that’s not even going to be called for a vote.

That’s what you call a legislative snooze-fest, well-intentioned ground-laying or not.  The hearing’s lineup of seven industry witnesses was a solid offering, though their words must have been echoing a bit in the mostly-empty hearing chamber.  Appearing in order were the following:

• John Pappas, Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance.  Pappas gave one of his standard pro-regulation stump speeches, providing a logical framework for why New York State should regulate online poker;

• James Featherstonhaugh, President of the New York Gaming Association.  Featherstonehaugh could best be described as neutral toward any online-gambling offerings in New York, recommending that the state move slowly on the issue and wait until after three newly approved brick-and-mortar casino resorts are up and operating in the state;

• Michael Pollock, Managing Director of Spectrum Gaming Group.  Spectrum is a minor research group with interest in the NY marketplace;

• John McManus, MGM Resorts’ General Counsel.  McManus’s most important offering might have been his relating that based on the Borgata’s experience in New Jersey (MGM Resorts is an ownership partner), online gambling does not cannibalize brick-and-mortar venues, but instead enhances them;

• David Satz, Caesars Entertainment’s Senior VP of Government Relations.  On the pro-online Caesars behalf, Satz pitched the prospect of New York online poker as a way for both the state and gambling industry to make some money — in the state’s case, according to Satz, between $256 million and $425 million over ten years if a “reasonable” tax rate was enacted.  According to Satz, that would be about 15%;

• Tom Ballance, President of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in neighboring New Jersey.  Though it’s true that the Borgata itself might be negatively impacted by the three new New York brick-and-mortar casinos (in online gambling, though, not so much), Ballance was there to compare and contrast online to live gambling and note that player liquidity was particularly important to online poker’s viability;

• Kevin Cochran, Senior Legal Analyst for GamblingCompliance.  GC is a pro-gambling research, news and legal think tank with offices in the UK and Washington D.C., and Cochran was on hand to offer his own viewpoints on the prospective New York market.  Based in part of other US states’ experiences with online poker, Cochran pegged a startup New York market as generating $122 million in its first full year online, but rising only to $164 million in its fourth year.  (Subjectively, the latter figure seems low to this writer if the first year’s goal is met, with no allowance for liquidity and promotional market gains and industry expansion or transition.)

In other words, the hearing offered a solid lineup and plenty of useful industry information; the larger problem, of course, is that no one was there to hear what they had to say.  It’s of course useful to have all the information on the public record, for 2016 and, perhaps, beyond, when New York State gets more serious about this whole online-poker business.

Meanwhile, the active fight to find the next US state to officially regulate online poker continues, with one of the likeliest battlegrounds being in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania.  At this point 2015 looks to be a washout for the US’s pro-online poker forces, with future legislative calendar years now the likeliest targets for similar pro-gaming legislation.


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