THE FIGHT: Dream a Little Dream

Although it’s not directly tied to online poker legalization, this week I’d like to spend a few minutes on brick-and-mortar gambling expansion in New York. It was a slow week for online poker on the legislative front anyway, and New York presents a more intriguing case than even California for online poker legalization.

First, though, let me be clear: online poker is not coming to the Empire State any day soon. New Yorkers are better served taking a train or a bus, or driving their cars, to the closest New Jersey diner, ordering a bottomless cup of black diner coffee and a piece of baklava, and firing up online poker on your tablet or smartphone.

With that out of the way…

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Republican Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed last week on the provisions of legislation to expand casino gaming in New York. The bill they crafted calls for four casinos upstates: two in the Catskills, one near Binghamton, and one near Albany.

The casinos are part of the governor’s efforts to revitalize several upstate regions, in a similar way that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hopes to inject life into Atlantic City by permitting online gaming. The New  York casinos would be the first non-tribal casinos in the state. Three other casinos could be built some years down the road, potentially in or near New York City.

That’s all well and good, but enacting the legislation, however, requires a referendum be put to the state’s voters. Article I, Section 9 of the State Constitution unambiguously states, “[N]o… kind of gambling… shall hereafter be authorized or allowed within this state”. There are exceptions for state-run lotteries and for horse racing.

The referendum will take place this November. It happens to be an unusual year for a referendum because the next New York City mayor will be elected, ensuring high turnout in a region that is, at best, apathetic about casino gambling.

Cuomo’s new legislation says nothing about online gaming, but if the referendum passes, and licenses for these new casinos begin to be doled out, some form of online gaming – tied directly to the casino licenses, as is the case in New Jersey – would be a natural next step. The new casinos would take a few years to be built and become operational anyway. By then neighboring states like Massachusetts (to the east) and Pennsylvania (to the south) could easily have already implemented their own online gaming legislation. Both states are already considering to do so.

New York, the third most populous states in the union has fewer issues with competing gambling interests than its bigger brother, California. The state has only five tribal casinos and nine racetracks. There are no card rooms like the Commerce Casino. Crafting online poker or online gaming legislation that keeps everybody happy might be difficult but would surely be less challenging than in California.

With 19 million residents, New York might not even need to go the route of player-pool agreements, though if Pennsylvania and Massachusetts both already have online poker at that point the agreements couldn’t hurt.

It may all hinge on what voters have to say about gambling in general. At last check, removing the constitutional prohibition on gambling had support of about 50%. That’s not much comfort, especially since more voters will be motivated to turn out to vote “no” on the referendum than to vote “yes”.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to dream.

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Kevin McGrady

Legislative and Politics Beat Writer: Kevin McGrady practiced corporate law in New York City for eight years before moving to Las Vegas in 2008 to join the gaming industry. Kevin is a graduate of New York University and Columbia University School of Law.
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