THE FIGHT: Looking Past New Jersey

New Jersey and Delaware have commanded the online poker legislative focus the last few weeks. Justifiably so – Delaware launches its online gaming offering, including poker, on Thursday and New Jersey is set to follow in about a month.

But New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada (which has had online poker since April) only represent 4% of the U.S. population. If we’re going to get as many Americans back in the game as possible, we need to take THE FIGHT to the rest of the states.

Front and center is New Jersey’s neighbor to the west, Pennsylvania. Gambling Compliance ran a story earlier this month suggesting that a Republican state senator is working to finalize a draft of a new online gambling bill. If introduced, that bill would join the bill of State Rep. Tina Davis (D-Bucks) in the “pending” column.

The story didn’t get much play at the time, perhaps because Davis’ earlier bill was sidelined by a House committee chair during the summer in order to watch online gaming unfold in New Jersey. That wait-and-see approach was echoed at last week’s World Regulatory Briefing 2013 in Philadelphia. Bill Ryan, the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, told attendees that he doesn’t foresee a significant push for online gaming legislation in the immediate future.

All the same, Online Poker Report summarized an interview with 888 COO Itai Freiberger last week in which Freiberger listed Pennsylvania as one of his four states that 888 is watching closely.

888 has made all the right moves so far, securing partnerships with Caesars, Treasure Island and Wynn in Nevada and New Jersey and winning the right to be Delaware’s exclusive online gaming provider in partnership with Scientific Games. That Freiberger highlighted Pennsylvania speaks volumes about where the dominoes are likely to fall next.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

On the other hand, Freiberger also included New York in his list, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo is struggling to win a referendum that would permit changes to the state constitution to allow casino-style gaming in New York as part of his plan to revitalize upstate.  Conventional thinking is that a push for seven new land-based casinos in a state with limited history of casino gaming shouldn’t be followed by a call for online gaming as well. While legislatively it may make sense, in practice it’s biting off more than voters can chew – especially given popular misconceptions about the ills of online gaming.

The fate of the referendum will likely be decided in New York City, where 40% of the state electorate resides and where turnout is expected to be high due to the mayoral race between Democrat Bill de Blasio and Republican Joe Lhota. The Big Apple has mostly been apathetic towards the issue since it was first raised a few months back, though recent polls indicate that the tide is turning in the casinos’ favor.

New York represents the tail end of a land-based casino “arms race” in the Northeast in recent years. First New Jersey, then Connecticut, and more recently Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Massachusetts have authorized casinos. State-based internet gaming could follow a similar path.

The industry should do all it can to help online gaming along that path. Just because we’re about to achieve a significant success in New Jersey doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep one eye on the future. THE FIGHT is far from over.

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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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