Seal of New York

PokerStars New York Lobbying Connection Examined

Seal of New YorkA handful of news reports have surfaced in the pre-Christmas days suggesting that PokerStars, fresh off various legal setbacks in New Jersey, has turned its attention to neighboring (and much larger) New York State as a new possible point of reentry for the company’s obvious US-market ambitions.

Yet in a word, this story is overblown.  While it’s true that Stars does indeed have a New York lawyer on retainer for lobbying purposes, this looks like very soft form of lobbying, more of a goodwill, image-building effort than anything that’s likely to produce near-term results.

The impetus comes from a news piece from a political beat writer in New York State’s capital of Albany, noting as the lead that “another gambling push” might be underway in the state’s legislative corridors.  Jimmy Vielkind, writing for Capital New York, noted a meeting between attorney/lobbyist Stuart Shorenstein and Bennett Liebman, who Vielkind describes as “the Cuomo administration’s top adviser on gambling.”

Shorenstein, is a member of the law firm Cozen O’Connor, which has a $25,000/month contract with PokerStars parent Rational Group.  Shorenstein may even have been the person who sought out Vielkind or a similar media outlet, perhaps for no other purpose than to leave a public record that Stars had received some sort of exposure, indirectly, for its money.

But nowhere in Vielkind’s piece is it expressed that Stars was seeking some of immediate New York State expansion on gambling, a state with deeply partitioned political regions, just a little bit of tribal gaming, and where a small handful of new casinos were approved by referendum, but not without controversy.

Instead, it seems that Shorenstein was used a conduit to introduce some pro-gaming marketing studies to NY legislators.  In the event that the state does consider online gaming, then having some studies in hand to get a better grasp of how large the NY market might be would be important.  Shorenstein reported to Vielkind that if New York had online gambling in 2014, the state could reap as much as $100 million.

That’s optimistic in two different ways, perhaps, since the state doesn’t have much of a shot at legalizing online poker or other games in the near future.

Meanwhile, over at Bodog mouthpiece CalvinAyre.com, columnist Peter Amsel brought up the story in typical CA style.  Wrote Amsel, “If the nominations for the 2013 Brazen Display of Chutzpah Awards aren’t yet closed, online poker titan PokerStars has proudly inscribed its name at the top of the ballot.”

Seriously, Sheldon Adelson locked that particular award up months ago, but that’s a whole different story.

Instead, Amsel’s latest duly digs up Stars’ recent difficulties in neighboring New Jersey, and includes this writerly example of putting the whole train of horses in front of the wagon:

“Cozen O’Connor attorney Stuart Shorenstein apparently told Bennett Liebman, Cuomo’s chief advisor on gambling matters, that it was “a good time for an open architecture,” i.e. if you’re throwing open the gambling gates, why not open them all the way to include online gambling? A Cuomo spokesman subsequently stated that the governor had no position on Stars’ helpful suggestion.”

Well, “open architecture” does not necessarily mean “other states,” as in allowing intrastate gaming; its likeliest meaning is to consider the concept of online gaming along with other new gambling opportunities that could be made available to New Yorkers, were the administration and the state’s voters both willing.

There’s nothing in the Vielkind piece to justify the CalvinAyre interpretation, so objective readers would do well to just write this latest piece off as yet another case of the site’s incessant competitor-bashing.

I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that Stars thinks that they’ll get online poker approved in 2014 in New York State, and they’ll magically be a part of it.  Instead, they’ve probably had this Shorenstein and Cozen O’Connor on a pittance of a retainer for some time, and they finally had a chance to meet with the Cuomo administration’s gaming officials, so it was time to disseminate some pro-gaming info.

There’s really not much more to it than that.  We love Bodog (and its US-facing brand, Bovada), but too often, they put out pieces like these.  They can be entertaining and grab readers, but they’re often self-serving and misleading.  CA’s good enough to do better.  A PokerStars New York marriage might happen in the distant future, but this is just small talk.

 

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