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Bill to legalize online poker quietly gains support in Albany

ALBANY — A bill that would legalize online poker in New York is quietly gaining momentum in the closing days of the legislative session.

A Senate bill expected to pass this week would tap into the lucrative at-home gambling industry by offering Texas Hold ’em and other poker games. Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee Chairman John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope) said his bill addresses the concerns of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that internet poker would hurt the latest state-approved casinos, which provide the state with a cut of their profits.

Under Bonacic’s bill, the internet poker sites would be run through the existing casinos or racetrack “racinos,” giving them a share of the pot. The state would get a $110 million windfall from the licensing of internet sites that would allow them to operate in New York. After that, New York would continue to get a cut of the profits based on how contracts are negotiated.

“Our bill makes sure you have to do it at the racinos or the casinos,” he said in an interview. “That’s where the platforms have to be. That’s where you make the money.”

Assembly Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon) said last week that he’s also trying to get online gambling through the Democratic-led Assembly, where opposition has been focused.

“There’s always hope,” Pretlow said.

“Pretlow wants it,” said Bonacic. “It’s a tougher walk, but he wants to do it.”

This month, in the closing days of the legislative session, the effort may be helped by a deadline to act on a bigger piece of legislation. The legislature must extend mayoral control of New York City schools before the law expires on June 30. The Senate and Assembly so far have competing bills that will have to be negotiated to an agreement with a deadline of the end of session on June 21.

That’s an opportunity to create leverage for bills such as the online gambling bill. The Senate’s Republican majority wants online gambling and the Assembly’s Democratic majority has made mayoral control of New York City schools a top priority.

“There’s illegal online gaming right now,” Bonacic said. “So why don’t we monitor it, tax it and make money for education?”

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