Posts Tagged ‘Senate’

Online Poker Bill Passes New York Senate Gaming Committee

 Online Poker Bill Passes New York Senate Gaming Committee

If at first you don’t succeed…you know how it goes. Such is the case in the New York state legislature, where for the third consecutive year, a bill which would legalize and regulate online poker has made it through the Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee. S3898 passed easily by a 10-1 vote and now moves on to the Senate Finance Committee.

There was significant movement with the bill last year, as it not only made it out of the Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee, but also the Finance Committee and then passed a vote of the full Senate in mid-June. Despite having half the year to get through the Assembly, it never even made it out of committee there. And it’s not even that it lost a vote; the Assembly really just didn’t bother with it.

One would think that it would move fairly quickly this time, as it is the same bill as last year. It was introduced around this time in 2017, getting through the first committee and reported to Finance in mid-February. Now, I don’t know what Senate schedules look like and there are certainly more pressing issues in Albany, New York than online poker, but it wouldn’t be difficult to envision lawmakers shuttling S3898 through the process in a hurry to get it over to the Assembly with as much time left in the year as possible.

Most of the bill is standard fare, but shortly before the full Senate vote last year, the dreaded “bad actor” clause was added. This type of clause, which has been seen in other online poker legislation, punishes operators who continued to accept U.S. players after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed in 2006. Some bad actor clauses outright ban these operators, while others delay their licensing application or assess fines.

The bad actor clause in the New York legislation says that, among others, this factor may be looked like by the New York Gaming Commission when evaluating the suitability of an applicant:

(f) Whether the applicant:

(i) has at any time, either directly, or through another person whom it owned, in whole or in significant part, or controlled:

(A) knowingly and willfully accepted or made available wagers on interactive gaming (including poker) from persons located in the United States after December thirty-first, two thousand six, unless such wager were affirmatively authorized by law of the United States or of each state in which persons making such wagers were located; or

(B) knowingly facilitated or otherwise provided services with respect to interactive gaming (including poker) involving persons located in the United States for a person described in clause (A) of this subparagraph and acted with knowledge of the fact that such wagers or interactive gaming involved persons located in the United States; or

(ii) has purchased or acquired, directly or indirectly, in whole or in significant part, a person described in subparagraph (i) of this paragraph or will use that person or a covered asset in connection with interactive gaming licensed pursuant to this article.

It does not appear that this bad actor clause is of the strictest variety, as it does not say that such an operator would be automatically deemed ineligible to receive an online gaming license. Rather, an operators actions after the UIGEA should be considered by the Commission.

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Pennsylvania Senate Passes Online Gambling Bill

 Pennsylvania Senate Passes Online Gambling Bill

Earlier this month, it looked like the chances of online poker legalization were dead in Pennsylvania for the rest of this year as state legislators still couldn’t agree on a budget bill, but sometimes life surprises us. On Wednesday night, the Pennsylvania Senate passed HB 271, a bill which would legalize and regulate online gambling, including online poker, by a vote of 31-19. The bill is now in the House, which was unable to vote on it Wednesday night, but will continue debate on the bill Thursday morning.

We would direct you to the bill to give it a look (follow the link above if you would like), but is nearly 1,000 pages when viewed in Microsoft Word, so good luck and see you next week. As mentioned the bill would legalize online gambling. This includes casino table games like blackjack, internet slots, and online poker. It would also permit for daily fantasy sports and even sports betting, the latter if and only if sports betting is legalized nationally.

This is all well and good, but there is still a big problem: the tax rate on online slots is insane. At 52 percent plus another 2 percent local tax, it will keep most operators from even applying for a license. Supporters of the outrageous tax will say that brick-and-mortar casinos have their slots taxed at the same rate, so online operators should be able to handle it just fine. What they fail to mention or realize is that the land based casinos realize other revenue streams from their guests, like hotel stays, dining, and shopping. Online slots have none of that, only gaming revenue.

The tax rate set by the bill for online poker and table games is 14 percent plus the 2 percent local add-on, which is similar to what we have seen in other states that have legalized online gambling.

Casinos in the Commonwealth will have first dibs on applying for licenses. It won’t be cheap though: $ 10 million for the trio of slots, poker, and table games within the first 90 days of the bill becoming law and $ 4 million each after that period. After 120 days, operators from outside of Pennsylvania can apply for licenses at $ 4 million a pop.

The bill covers lots of other gambling. Online lottery sales would be authorized and special tablet gambling areas would be authorized at certain airports in the state. The bill also legalizes video gaming terminals (VGTs) – think things like video slots and video poker – at licensed truck stops. This has been the subject of heavy disagreement in the legislature, as many lawmakers don’t want gambling to spread too far outside of casinos for fear of abuse and increased competition with casinos.

The House did begin debating the bill Wednesday night, but as mentioned, no vote was taken and debate will continue Thursday morning. It is possible that a vote could happen before the lunch hour, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that online gambling will finally be legalized in Pennsylvania this week.

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New York Online Poker Bill Passes Senate Finance Committee

 New York Online Poker Bill Passes Senate Finance Committee

It is on to the full Senate for a bill that would regulate and legalize online poker in New York state, as the bill has passed the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday by a 27-9 vote. On Valentine’s Day, the bill passed the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee by a unanimous 11-0 vote.

The purpose of S3898, according to the text of the bill itself, is:

To authorize the New York State Gaming Commission to license certain entities to offer for play to the public certain variants of internet poker which require a significant degree of skill, specifically “Omaha
Hold’em” and “Texas Hold’em.”

Straightforward, it is (Yoda…I am?).

The bill is sponsored by Republican State Senator John Bonacic, who has taken up the online poker cause during the last few years. He introduced a bill last year and everything was going well, especially when it sailed through the Senate by a 53-5 vote, but the Assembly never even voted on it.

Bonacic has been confident about his bill this year, telling GamblingCompliance, “Last year, there was too much gaming for the Assembly to consider with fantasy sports and the efforts in New Jersey for a referendum to put a casino in the Meadowlands, and I really think that it got put on the back burner. So now we are putting it in the front burner.”

We won’t bore our readers with all of the finer points of the poker bill, but some of the provisions, as we listed out in February, as well, include:

•    Permits the state to enter into interstate gaming compacts so that player pools can be combined.
•    15 percent tax on gross gaming revenue
•    A maximum of ten licensed operators who must pay a licensing fee of $ 10 million each. Licenses would be good for ten years.
•    Most forms of poker would be authorized, even though the above “purpose” statement only mentions Hold’em and Omaha (that was likely just a simplification, as Hold’em and Omaha are the two most popular forms of online poker – there would be no reason to exclude other forms, like Stud).
•    When and if the bill is signed into law, there will be a 180-day grace period before licenses can be issued and games can start, likely to make sure the state is properly prepared.
•    Operating an online poker site without a license is a crime. Unlicensed operators will be both fined and taxed.

One of the reasons that the bill didn’t get voted upon in the state Assembly last year was Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who was actually the sponsor of the Assembly’s version of the bill. In a February interview with FIOS1 News’s Andrew Whitman, he said that he was not confident about operators’ ability to prevent cheating. Fortunately, after visiting New Jersey’s Attorney General, he came away impressed and is now “satisfied” that cheating can be prevented as much as is reasonably possible. Pretlow now believes the bill shouldn’t have problems in the New York Assembly, assuming it gets there.

“When I do sign off on something,” he told Whitman, “my colleagues feel that it is a good deal and they don’t question why I made a certain decision. They know that if that decision was made, it’s for good reason. So I don’t really see there’s going to be much opposition to moving this along.”

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New York Online Poker Bill Passes First Senate Committee by Unanimous Vote

 New York Online Poker Bill Passes First Senate Committee by Unanimous Vote

When New York State Senator John Bonacic once again introduced a bill to legalize and regulate online poker in the state in late January, it was expected that it would get through the Senate’s Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering fairly quickly. That expectation was correct. On Tuesday, Bonacic’s bill, S 3898, passed by a unanimous 11-0 vote and has now been advanced to the Senate Finance Committee.

The purpose of the bill, as stated on the bill’s webpage on the New York State Senate website, is quite simple:

To authorize the New York State Gaming Commission to license certain entities to offer for play to the public certain variants of internet poker which require a significant degree of skill, specifically “Omaha
Hold’em” and “Texas Hold’em.”

It also “….includes definitions, authorization, required safeguards and minimum standards, the scope of licensing review and state tax implications; makes corresponding penal law amendments.”

Some of the bill’s key points:

•    Permits the state to enter into interstate gaming compacts so that player pools can be combined.
•    15 percent tax on gross gaming revenue
•    A maximum of ten licensed operators who must pay a licensing fee of $ 10 million each. Licenses would be good for ten years.
•    Most forms of poker would be authorized, even though the above “purpose” statement only mentions hold’em and Omaha.
•    When and if the bill is signed into law, there will be a 180-day grace period before licenses can be issued and games can start, likely to make sure the state is properly prepared.
•    Operating an online poker site without a license is a crime. Unlicensed operators will be both fined and taxed.

Needless to say, if New York got an online poker industry up and running, that bit about interstate compacts being allowed is enormous. One would think that Nevada and Delaware, who have an agreement to share player pools, would be on the phone with New York immediately to try to get the Empire State on board. As readers of this site likely understand, online poker is all about player liquidity. Lots of players means active tables means more revenue. And the more activity the tables have, the more attractive the sites look to prospective players, resulting in more people signing up and the activity becoming even greater.

The reverse is also true: low activity leads to less attractive poker rooms leads to fewer signups and ultimately exiting players. Nevada and Delaware have fewer than 3 million residents between them (estimated) and can barely keep poker rooms going. New York, on the other hand, has nearly 20 million residents plus tons of visitors for both work and tourism every day. A combination with New York would do wonders for Nevada’s and Delaware’s online poker business.

Bonacic has made the regulation of online poker one of his primary focuses in the last several years, but obviously has never been able to get it done. His bill conquered the Senate easily last year, passing by a 53-5 vote, but was never voted upon in the Assembly.

Bonacic feels more confident this year, telling GamblingCompliance (premium content ahead), “Last year, there was too much gaming for the Assembly to consider with fantasy sports and the efforts in New Jersey for a referendum to put a casino in the Meadowlands, and I really think that it got put on the back burner. So now we are putting it in the front burner.”

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Virginia Senate Passes Poker “Game of Skill” Bill, Future Unknown

 Virginia Senate Passes Poker “Game of Skill” Bill, Future Unknown

In a highly contentious vote, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Senate voted to classify poker as a “game of skill.” The future of the Senate bill? That is unknown, but it opens the doors for a plethora of outcomes.

The vote in the Senate was as close as you can get. After the polling was complete, the issue garnered the same number of votes for each side, 19-19, meaning that Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam’s vote was necessary to break the tie. His “aye” vote for passage cleared the way for the bill to now be considered by the Virginia House of Delegates.

The Senate bill, S1400, was originally introduced by Senator Louise Lucas, who was sure that the bill would get out of the Senate chambers. “I had the law on my side,” Lucas commented before the hearing in the Senate committee that would end up passing. This was the third year in a row that Lucas had proposed such legislation, with the bill in previous years dying in the same committee that passed it in 2017.

The bill itself only changes the language in Virginia statutes regarding its definition of poker as a “skill” game and not illegal gambling. The full bill language is as such: Poker; definition of illegal gambling and charitable gaming; poker games authorized; regulation of poker tournaments. Provides that poker is a game of skill and therefore not illegal gambling. The bill also allows a qualified organization to conduct poker games in conjunction with its charitable gaming activities, but does not allow a charitable organization to conduct poker tournaments. The bill requires the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Charitable Gaming Board to regulate poker tournaments, defined in the bill as a competition organized for the purpose of conducting poker games at one or multiple tables where (i) competitors play a series of poker games, (ii) prizes are awarded to winning players on a fixed or proportional payout basis, and (iii) the total prize amount awarded to all winning players at the event is $ 50,000 or more. Finally, the bill requires poker tournament sponsors to obtain a permit before conducting a tournament and tournament managers and operators to be registered with the Department.

Nowhere in that definition change does it state the future of poker in the state. There are several paths that could be taken in the coming months.

The first is that there could be absolutely nothing done. The Virginia House of Delegates is a notoriously anti-gaming bunch, but of late there has been some changes that the body has allowed. The state offers a lottery, pari-mutuel betting and, in 2016, opened the doors for daily fantasy sports (DFS) inside the state. Whether the House is ready to allow for poker’s decriminalization, however, is unknown.

If the House were to vote through S1400 and Governor Terry McAuliffe (a Democrat) signs it, then several options are available. The opening of casino gaming could be in play as Virginia, with Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland located around it all having some form of casino gaming and/or poker, might be interested in keeping some Virginia residents’ money inside the state. There is also the potential for online poker to come to the fore for the Cavalier State.

Online poker would be the first foray into the industry for the state and they may have the population to make a difference. Virginia, with its estimated 8.4 million residents, is the 12th largest state in the country and is almost the equal of another state that has online casino gaming, New Jersey (8.9 million). Numbers from the barely three-year old New Jersey online casino gaming industry, where there has been over $ 476 million in revenues and $ 71 million in taxes paid by the operators, have been strong even though they were originally overestimated by the state’s Governor, Chris Christie.

This is critical as Virginia legislators look for an injection of funds into the state coffers. In 2014, the state estimated that there would be more than a $ 1 billion shortfall in the budget, with significant cuts potentially on the horizon. Online gaming (if the numbers were like New Jersey’s figures) and casino gaming could be something that Virginia legislators might by eying as a potential to offset the state’s financial woes.

This discussion is quite premature, however, as the bill still must get through the House and get the signature of McAuliffe. Currently there is no discussion planned for S1400 in the House, but that can change quickly. The move to make poker a “skill” game in Virginia may be nothing more than a legal clarification but, if passed, it would open the doors for quite a bit more for the state.

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