Posts Tagged ‘Senator’

Michigan State Senator Introduces Online Poker Bill

 Michigan State Senator Introduces Online Poker Bill

As my colleague Earl Burton wrote a couple days ago, there has been an uptick in online poker regulation activity in a number of states in the last few months. One state mentioned in his piece was Michigan, whose online gaming effort he said “hasn’t moved beyond talking.” But last week, a Michigan legislator did finally take the formal step and introduced a bill that would legalize and regulate online poker.

It was State Senator Michael Kowall, a Republican representing District 15, who introduced Senate Bill 0203 on March 1st, a bill which would create the “Lawful Internet Gaming Act.” The bill would authorize the new division of internet gaming to grant licenses to the state’s casinos. Of course, the casinos would have to apply for said licenses and would have to pay $ 100,000 to do so. The licenses would have a duration of five years and would come with a fee of $ 200,000 for the first year and $ 100,000 per year after that.

Online gaming vendors – for instance, companies that might provide poker software or computer equipment for the poker operators – can also apply for separate licenses. The price tags on those licenses would be significantly less than for the operators themselves: $ 5,000 for the application fee, $ 2,500 per year, and $ 5,000 for the first year.

The state would tax gross gaming revenue at 10 percent.

The beginning of bill explains that legalizing and regulating online poker makes sense for Michigan for reasons most of us have been preaching all along. The internet is woven into our lives just like telephones and televisions and people like to play poker online. These people should have the chance to play behind the consumer protections of regulations:

The legislature finds that the internet has become an integral part of everyday life for a significant number of residents of this state, not only in regard to their professional lives, but also in regard to personal business and communication. Internet wagering on games of chance and games of skill is a core form of entertainment for millions of individuals worldwide. In multiple jurisdictions across the world, internet gaming is legal, regulated, and taxed, generating billions of dollars in revenue for governments.

In order to protect residents of this state who wager on games of chance or skill through the internet and to capture revenues and create jobs generated from internet gaming, it is in the best interest of this state and its citizens to regulate this activity by authorizing and establishing a secure, responsible, fair, and legal system of internet gaming that complies with the United States Department of Justice’s September 2011 opinion concerning 18 USC 1084.

The regulations actually set out in the bill are fairly run-of-the-mill. Players must be 21-years old and located in the state of Michigan, players must be permitted to self-exclude, and online gaming operators must have procedures and technologies in place to be sure that only people permitted to play can actually logon and play, as well as being able to detect and prevent cheating.

While the bill does specifically mention online poker, it also says that it is not strictly limited to online poker and that other games can be offered.

Interstate compacts in which multiple states’ player pools are combined are also permitted.

Even if the bill somehow charges through the Michigan state legislature and becomes law quickly, it still could be a long time before any online poker rooms launch in the state. The division of internet gaming would be given a year to get all the rules set (could be less time, of course) and then nobody would be allowed to offer games for 150 days after the rules are formally laid out.

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Georgia State Senator to Introduce Casino Authorization Bill

 Georgia State Senator to Introduce Casino Authorization Bill

As a Georgian for 18 years now (dear lord, I’ve lived here a long time), I have never been able to play poker in a proper casino without flying across the country or driving several hours to a neighboring state. No, this hasn’t ruined my life or anything – I can do without just fine – but you know, it would be nice, wouldn’t it? With a lot of luck, there is a chance that I may get what I’ve been searching for within the next few years, as State Senator Brandon Beach told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he will soon be introducing a pair of bills that would legalize casino gambling in Georgia.

This has been tried before, as recently as within the last couple years, and while lawmakers gave it more serious thought than one might have expected here in the Bible Belt, the bills ultimately didn’t get very far. According to an AJC poll, though, 56 percent of registered Georgia voters support casino legalization, so maybe there is hope.

There are a number of reasons why Beach and others want casinos in the state. Without even knowing anything about Georgia, you might guess that they want to keep residents from spending their gaming dollars out of state, and you would be correct. Atlanta, specifically, is also a big convention city, so having a resort-style casino here could help draw more events, or at the very least, get visitors to go out and plunk down some cash during their downtime.

The biggest goal for gambling proponents, though, is to help fund the state’s HOPE Scholarship, which was created in 1993. The HOPE Scholarship helps students who earn a 3.0 GPA in high school pay for tuition at in-state colleges and universities (private or public). Over the years, it has become such a popular program that it has become harder and harder to actually fund the scholarships. Dollar awards have decreased and recently, “academic vigor” standards have been put in place to make it more difficult to earn the scholarship.

The HOPE Scholarship, along with public pre-K programs, is funded by the Georgia lottery. The idea with casino gambling is to divert most of the gaming tax revenue to the HOPE Scholarship to fill in the gaps that the lottery isn’t covering anymore.

In Beach’s plan, Georgia would be divided into four zones: from I-20 (which runs through the middle of Atlanta east to west) to the north, Coastal Georgia, Southern Georgia, and Middle Georgia. The bill would authorize the construction of five resort-style casinos and one horse track. The “primary” casino would require a $ 1 billion investment from the operator and would have to be built within 25 miles of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The other four casinos would require $ 250 million investments and would have to be built at least 50 miles away from the primary casino. The horse track would require a $ 125 million investment.

The casinos would be taxed 12 percent of gross gaming revenue.

It will take quite an effort to get this to pass. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate will have to vote for it, just to get to Governor Nathan Deal’s desk and he is against casino gambling. If it gets all the way through, it will then be put on the 2018 ballot for residents of the state to vote upon. And then, even if Georgians give it the ok, the cities and counties that want a casino will have to let their local residents vote on whether or not they want a casino neighbor. Only after all of that can construction start.

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Pennsylvania State Senator to Introduce Online Gambling Bill Soon

 Pennsylvania State Senator to Introduce Online Gambling Bill Soon

Pennsylvania State Senator Jay Costa (D – District 43) issued a “Senate Co-Sponsorship Memorandum” on Monday, announcing his intention to introduce legislation that will legalize and regulate online gambling in the Commonwealth.

It seemed that the Pennsylvania legislature would get online gambling, including poker, legalized in 2016 and, in fact, the House of Representatives did, but the Senate never followed suit. The state has become one of the largest gambling centers in the United States and there is a lot of support for online gaming amongst lawmakers, but there were enough disagreements on some issues that the ball was never carried over the goal line.

The legislature’s attempts to cobble together a balanced budget last year were a mess and online gambling was promised as a solution to fill a $ 100 million gap.

In the Memorandum, Senator Costa summarizes what his bill would entail. All casino games would be permitted on the internet, with the dozen Pennsylvania casinos being eligible to apply for internet gaming licenses. Licensing fees would amount to $ 10 million for the casinos and $ 5 million for vendors who partner with a casino to provide the gaming platform (for example, PokerStars or 888). Those fees would go into the state’s General Fund.

Internet gambling operators would be taxed at 25 percent of gaming revenue; 15 percent going to the Property Tax Relief Fund and 10 percent deposited into an account with the Commonwealth Financing Authority, to go to towards economic development projects in the Commonwealth. Half of the funds in said account will be for projects in a casino’s surrounding counties.

No internet gambling will be allowed on casino property (to prevent tax avoidance by the casinos), but players may sign up for accounts online or at a casino.

One of the aspects of internet gaming that was debated was the expansion into Pennsylvania airports. Senator Costa’s bill would authorize tablet gaming at the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh airports on a five-year trial basis. There would be a $ 2.5 million licensing fee and this revenue would also be taxed at 25 percent.

Daily fantasy sports and internet lottery sales would also be legalized.

One of the most pressing gambling legislative challenges that cropped up in the final quarter of the year was how to handle casino “host fees.” The dozen casinos in the Commonwealth are all required to pay out a portion of their revenues to their local municipalities and counties; the nine casinos outside of Philadelphia must pay $ 10 million per year or two percent of slot machine “gross terminal revenue,” whichever is greater. In 2016, the owner of the Mount Airy casino sued the state, saying that this was an unconstitutional tax, as every non-Philly casino ended up paying the $ 10 million and therefore each was essentially paying a different tax rate. The state Supreme Court agreed in late September and gave the legislature 120 days to come up with a solution.

Senator Costa’s solution is to basically take away the “either/or” option and just require the casinos to pay a $ 10 million annual host fee.

Senator Costa did not say when he will introduce the bill, just that it will be introduced in the “near future.”

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Pennsylvania State Senator to Meet with Casino Reps

 Pennsylvania State Senator to Meet with Casino Reps

Each year, the Pennsylvania legislature is not only required to devise a budget plan for the state, but is required to have it balance. In 2016, the process of doing this was a mess and with just a few days left before 2016, the budget still doesn’t balance. One of the sticking points revolved around Pennsylvania’s gambling industry; gambling expansion looked like it would happen, but after much wrangling, things are still up in the air. As such, State Senator Kim Ward has scheduled a meeting with the leaders from Pennsylvania’s twelve casinos in the Capitol on January 3rd, this according to the Associated Press.

It is not known exactly what they will discuss, but Sen. Ward said, “The days of doing nothing are over at this point.”

There is a good chance the main topic of conversation will be how to settle the issue of casino “host fees.” The nine casinos that are located outside of Philadelphia were required to pay a tax to the municipalities where they were located in the form of either two percent of slots “gross terminal revenue” or $ 10 million per year, whichever is higher. A total of $ 142 million in host fees were paid last year and are an important part of city and county budgets.

Mount Airy Casino & Resort’s owner, though, sued the state, arguing that the host fees were an unconstitutional tax. Because of how the host fee was structured, all nine casinos routinely paid the $ 10 million because they weren’t large enough to have more than $ 500 million in gross terminal revenue. Because of this, the casinos were effectively paying different tax rates, hence Mount Airy’s problem with the host fee.

In late September, the state Supreme Court agreed with Mounty Airy’s owner, but rather than eliminating the host fees immediately, it gave the legislature 120 days to come up with a solution.

The Senate has supposedly devised a very basic solution that would simply make the host fee a flat $ 10 million. This would have the same effect on the casinos, but there would be no tie to revenue. Nothing has been settled upon, though.

Online poker is also an issue. There was a big push to legalize and regulate internet poker in the state and though it got plenty of support in the legislature, no bill ever got so far as to passing. The budget has counted on online gambling to fill a $ 100 million hole, a hole which is actually now even bigger than expected. Many lawmakers still expect positive developments on internet poker in 2017, but it was disappointing it didn’t get done this year.

When the Senate sent its host tax amendment to the House, the House added a part to legalize online gambling, including fantasy sports, but the Senate didn’t like that.

Senate majority leader Jake Corman told The Morning Call at the time, “We told the House before, we don’t have consensus on I-gaming, yet they chose to load it into the host fee bill. That basically killed it for this session.”

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Senator Diane Feinstein Pens Opposition Letter to California Efforts to Regulate Online Poker, Legislators Ignore Her

 Senator Diane Feinstein Pens Opposition Letter to California Efforts to Regulate Online Poker, Legislators Ignore Her

Offering her opinion from a national seat on an issue that the state is trying to figure out (the civics people in the audience will realize how that sounds), California Senator Diane Feinstein recently penned a letter to the California General Assembly in opposition to their efforts to pass effective regulation of online poker. The state body’s response? Passing said legislation out of committee by a unanimous vote.

Feinstein penned her letter to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon in response to Assembly Bill 2863, which had its first hearing in front of the California Assembly’s Governmental Organization Committee last week. “I write to strongly oppose legislation that has been introduced in the State Assembly to authorize online poker in California,” Feinstein’s letter begins. “I urge you to consider the potential widespread harmful implications of online gambling, particularly for young people in California.”

The senior Senator from California continues on to point out a study from BioMed Central, a for-profit scientific (online) publisher from the United Kingdom, regarding online gaming and youth participation. In that study, researchers Tara Elton-Marshall, Scott Leatherdale and Nigel Turner posited that “youth are gambling online despite restrictions” (they don’t note that they probably are smoking, drinking and other activities as well despite restrictions), which is enough for Feinstein to conclude that it has to be stopped. She goes on to tie in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s out-of-date research on the subject from the early 2000s and states that “mechanisms” can “conceal the location of players” from the online gaming sites.

Where Feinstein really goes off the reservation is on the activities of “Black Friday.” Despite having paid nearly $ 1 billion in fines over the 2011 indictment of founder Isai Scheinberg (whom Feinstein talks about as if she’s never heard of him) and being cleared of any charges, Feinstein brings up PokerStars, saying they “provide a ready avenue for money laundering and other possible offenses.” She also states they are harmful to children, but doesn’t go into detail, and insinuates that the new ownership of PokerStars, Amaya Gaming, isn’t trustworthy either.

From all appearances, the letter Feinstein sent to the California legislators sounds like a lobbyist from the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling wrote it. The letter contains all of the fingerprints of arguments that have been used by the minions of the CSIG – and have been thoroughly refuted by repeated demonstrations of geolocation technology and identification verification – and pretty much no individual thought from the Senator herself.

So what was the reply from the California Assembly’s Governmental Organization Committee? In an 18-0 vote, AB 2863 – despite still-significant differences between many of the various parties involved in the case – was passed, sending it along to the California Assembly for consideration and potentially a vote. One of the most powerful voices in demonstrating that regulation was necessary was the Poker Player Alliance’s Executive Director, John Pappas.

During his testimony in front of the committee, Pappas related the history of unregulated rooms that had suddenly shut down, leaving thousands of U. S. players in the lurch. “Lock Poker last April shut down and took millions in player deposits,” Pappas noted. “Because there is no regulatory oversight, there is nothing the players can do to get their money back.”

Pappas’ testimony, while not the only key point in advocating for regulation of the online poker industry, was probably the most powerful to the committee members. Before the bill can move to the Assembly and, perhaps, the California Senate, the differing factions have to find a common ground to solidly put in the bill. Despite the moves by Pappas and the drive from the Assembly committee, they cannot force the factions into a deal.

While many are optimistic about passage in 2016, there is the stark reality that the discussions have been going on for almost a decade on this subject. As such, it would be best for online poker players to temper their excitement over this issue as there are some powerful players – including a sitting U. S. Senator – who could still impact the decision.

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