New York Senate Set to Pass Online Poker Bill for Third Straight Year

New York Senate Set to Pass Online Poker Bill for Third Straight Year

It’s déjà vu all over again in New York, where the state’s Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering voted 10-1 in favor of a bill legalizing and regulating online poker.

Senate Bill 3898 was forwarded on January 23 to the Senate Finance Committee for further review, where it’s expected to receive similar levels of support.

Last year, an identical bill was passed unanimously by Racing, Gaming, and Wagering, before a 28-9 vote moved it to the full Senate. The 2017 version of SB-3898 passed through the Senate by a 53-9 margin, marking the second consecutive year that online poker was authorized by one half of New York’s legislature.

But despite widespread support from the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill stalled out in the Democrat-dominated Assembly without ever receiving a vote.

State senator John Bonacic (R-42), the chief sponsor of SB-3898, spoke to his colleagues ahead of the committee vote to reiterate his justifications for legalizing online poker:

“There are many media reports that the [commercial] casinos aren’t meeting their revenue expectations.

This would be another tool in their toolbox to enhance revenues, if we allowed them to do it. This will be the third time that the Senate has passed this bill, and I know Assemblyman [Gary] Pretlow, who chairs the Racing and Wagering [Committee] in the Assembly, is supportive of the bill.

I know he will continue to use his best efforts to move it in the Assembly.”

For his part, assemblyman Pretlow (D-89) has promised to use his powerful position as chair of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee to champion SB-3898.

Even so, Pretlow has previously expressed personal reservations on the integrity of online gambling, going so far as to visit neighboring New Jersey to “study” the Garden State’s thriving iGaming industry in 2016. His hesitance to embrace the issue was widely cited as a factor in the first bill’s demise, but Pretlow reversed course last year after his fact-finding mission confirmed iGaming to be safe and secure.

In a recent interview with Online Poker Report, Pretlow laid the blame for last year’s inaction on women in the Assembly who he believes oppose gambling expansion in any form:

“It seems women are opposed to gambling or gaming, and it got a little heated.

There’s opposition to the legislation by a lot of female members of the Assembly, and the Speaker decided we should wait to get it straightened out. But now I know which ones to deal with and that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to redouble my efforts, as the expression goes.”

Assuming the Senate passes SB-3898 for the third time in as many years, Pretlow and his colleagues in the Assembly would reexamine A-5250, a version which essentially mimics Bonacic’s bill.

As he told Online Poker Report, Pretlow foresees several months of inaction while legislators address more pressing matters, including the state budget:

“It will probably end up being a June push again, unless there’s reasons for otherwise.

Right now we’re going into budget mode, and all February we’re lost in the budget. Then the middle of March we’ll be fighting over things, and on April 1 the budget is passed.

Then April, May and June is when all the work gets done.”

Pretlow also pointed out that New York has become increasingly isolated from a regional iGaming industry. Along with New Jersey, which recorded $ 245 million in iGaming revenue last year alone, Delaware also operates regulated online gambling. And following the passage of comprehensive gambling expansion last year, Pennsylvania is preparing to become the fourth state to establish an iGaming industry later this year.

As Pretlow frames the debate, New York can’t afford to fall further behind its regional neighbors:

“We’re surrounded by online gaming. I guess eventually we will come around.

It’s just like with marijuana. Many states are legalizing marijuana, and two years ago the governor was totally opposed.

But since we’re surrounded by Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey heading toward legalization and probably Pennsylvania, he’s going to rethink that. Times and situations do change.”

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New Jersey Legislator Introduces Bill to Allow International iGaming Player Pool Sharing

New Jersey Legislator Introduces Bill to Allow International iGaming Player Pool Sharing

New Jersey operates the most successful statewide online gambling industry in America, but lawmakers in the Garden State are gearing up for international integration.

On November 30, state senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) introduced Senate Bill 3536, which would revise current regulations by allowing computer servers and other equipment used in New Jersey’s iGaming industry to be operated outside of Atlantic City.

If passed, SB-3536 – which is bears the title “An Act Allowing Location of Internet Gaming Equipment Outside of Atlantic City Under Certain Circumstances” – would pave the way for New Jersey to share its online casino and poker player pools with international operators in Europe and elsewhere.

In a concluding statement attached to SB-3536, Lesniak summarized the bill’s intent:

“Under current law, Internet gaming equipment is required to be located within the territorial boundaries of Atlantic City.

This bill allows the division to permit Internet gaming equipment to be located outside of Atlantic City if the division deems it necessary to facilitate the conduct of international Internet wagering.”

Existing regulations were put in place by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE) in 2013, when New Jersey legalized online gambling through licenses issued to Atlantic City casinos. Under the New Jersey State Constitution, gambling activity in New Jersey is confined to Atlantic City only, and requiring essential equipment involved in the iGaming industry to be physically located there preserves the iGaming law’s constitutionality.

But as Lesniak noted in his bill’s text, NJDGE regulations also permit player sharing agreements with other jurisdictions – including foreign nations – provided such agreements remain consistent with federal law.

In October of this year, New Jersey forged such an agreement with Nevada and Delaware, the two other states which had legalized iGaming at the time (Pennsylvania has since passed legislation to become the fourth).

And in August, a preliminary agreement to share online poker player liquidity with the United Kingdom fell through, in large part due to the current locational law.

At the time, NJDGE director David Rebuck explained how an emphasis on Atlantic City served to scuttle the U.K. deal:

“Our law is very restricted in that the gaming servers, the actual gaming servers that allow for the outcome of the game to be determined, have to be in Atlantic City, and that’s just not a business model that they were willing to adopt.

If those states will not allow their gaming servers for online gaming to be here, we really are kind of stuck, unless there is a legislative change. We’re not in a very strong position to effectuate liquidity with those restrictions.”

By removing the current restrictions and allowing similar agreements to be enacted, Lesniak’s bill would let international players access New Jersey’s online casinos and poker rooms.

So-called common operators – or iGaming companies like PartyPoker, PokerStars, and Betfair currently serving customers in New Jersey and abroad – would benefit through increased player liquidity. Per data compiled by player volume tracking site PokerScout, the New Jersey-based PokerStars platform maintains a seven-day average of just 110 active players at any one time. If connected to the international site through player sharing, that number would grow by 11,000 players.

Lesniak has spent much of his four decades in the New Jersey statehouse advocating for gambling expansion, and he issued a statement explaining where SB-3536 fits into his legacy:

“I’ve changed my mission from making New Jersey the Silicon Valley of internet gaming to the Mecca of internet gaming.

Online gaming has helped Atlantic City revive its casino sector with a success that we can expand in ways that will generate more revenue, create jobs and fuel technological innovation in gaming.”

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New Hampshire Congress Instantly Deny Virtual poker Bill

New Hampshire Congress Instantly Deny Virtual poker Bill

Within days of conducting an executive session to study the merits of an online gambling decriminalization bill, members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted it down unanimously.

Following the October 25 executive session, House Bill 562 – also known as “An Act Allowing Online Gambling” – was rejected in a 23-0 vote. In technical terms, the bill was classified as “inexpedient to legislate,” but that status leaves HB-562 with no viable path forward.

As the New Hampshire Almanac explains, the vote classification renders the issue of online gambling legalization dead on arrival until the next legislative session at the earliest:

“A bill is considered killed when the House or Senate votes to adopt the committee report of ‘Inexpedient to legislate.’”

HB-562 was introduced in January of this year by Representatives Eric Schleien (R-37), Nick Zaricki (R-7), and Robert Fisher (R-9).

Designed as a “placeholder” bill, the full text of HB-562 provided a short and direct explanation of its intent:

“This bill exempts gambling done over the Internet from gambling offenses under RSA 647.

The Department of Justice to date has neither investigated nor prosecuted online gaming offenses and therefore does not expect this bill to have any impact on expenditures.

To the extent this bill legalizes a form of gambling, it may have an indeterminable impact on lottery and charitable gaming revenue. Lottery and charitable gaming revenue is credited to the lottery fund, with net revenues after Lottery Commission expenditures being credited to the state education trust fund.”

As the text makes clear, HB-562 would not have followed the model established by Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware, the three states which have successfully created a regulatory framework for statewide online gambling industries. Instead, the bill simply removed language from existing laws which rendered online gambling as a criminal activity. If passed, HB-562 would have paved the way toward eventual regulation.

The bill was originally sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it sat idle until August when it was retained in subcommittee. At that point, industry experts viewed HB-562 as an extreme longshot to warrant further consideration, but New Hampshire’s decision to legalize online lottery ticket sales in June prompted further exploration of iGaming options.

On October 12, the subcommittee surprisingly sent HB-562 through to an executive session, but it failed to garner a single vote in support.

However, that lack of enthusiasm may have been based on the bill’s sponsors, rather than its intent.

Fisher, a 31-year old Republican, resigned from the House in disgrace back in May, after constituents exposed him as the ringleader of a misogynist internet forum known as “Red Pill.” Following a hearing which saw critics of Fisher read his comments about using “roofies” and “duct tape” to induce sexual encounters, the lawmaker was forced by party leaders to resign immediately.

Fisher offered the following explanation for his comment during a public hearing:

“Several years ago, I made some injudicious statements regarding women and my frustrations with dating.

Some of the views that have been alleged here are certainly not reflective of what I stand for and what I have done in my time here in Concord.”

Schleien, a 29-year old Republican, is facing a similarly sordid scandal after a 16-year old girl accused him of sexual misconduct. He pled not guilty to those charges, and a tentative trial date has been set for next spring.

Given the lack of legislative power now wielded by both Fisher and Schleien, the eventual failure of their online gambling bill was hardly a surprise to local political observers.

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New York’s Online Poker Bill Falls Just Short of Finish Line for Second Straight Year

New York’s Online Poker Bill Falls Just Short of Finish Line for Second Straight Year

Just six weeks after the state senators in New York resoundingly voted to pass an online poker bill, the state’s Assembly has allowed it to die off without a vote.

Senate Bill 3898 was sponsored by state senator John Bonacic (R-42) in late January, and by February the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee voted 11-0 to move the online poker regulation measure forward. A voice vote by the full Senate took place on May 9, and once again S-3898 was ushered through the chamber without delay.

That sent it on to the full Assembly for study, but in a carbon copy of last year’s legislative wrangling, that body was unable to reach consensus before the session elapsed on June 21.

This marks the second consecutive year that the Assembly has failed to act on an online poker package passed overwhelmingly by the Senate. Bonacic saw his S-5302, which is nearly identical in construction and language to S-3898, passed by the full Senate in a 53-5 walkover last year, only to watch it languish in an inactive Assembly.

At that time, Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow – a veteran lawmaker who serves as chairman of the Committee on Racing and Wagering – provided the primary point of opposition. Pretlow expressed concerns over the ability of New York regulators to protect online poker players from cheating, as well as the potential for non-residents to access the state’s legal sites.

But this February, following a research mission to neighboring New Jersey to study the Garden State’s flourishing iGaming industry, Pretlow abruptly reversed course. Having determined that modern geolocation technology used in New Jersey is effective in blocking New Yorkers from playing, and instances of cheating are rare if not nonexistent, Pretlow offered his full support for online poker.

Political watchdogs and iGaming industry insiders widely expected Pretlow – a powerful figure in New York state politics for 25 years who heads the key Assembly committee on gambling issues – to provide the proverbial tipping point.

Pretlow himself said as much, telling local news outlet FiOS1news.com on February 25 that he saw few hurdles ahead after aligning with proponents of online poker:

“When I do sign off on something, 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 that there’s going to be much opposition to moving this along.”

After securing passage through his own committee on June 15, Pretlow sent S-3898 to the Assembly’s Committee on Ways and Means, but progress stalled amidst a tight deadline of less than one week.

Pretlow gave an interview to Online Poker Report on June 16 to discuss the S-3898, during which offered a telling take on S-3898’s chances of passing in 2017:

“I would say they’re slim, but not very slim. I believe they have some issues that may not be resolved by the middle of next week.

I’ve heard they have some constitutional issues and disagreements over the penalties. Some people say we don’t have strong enough penalties for bad actor, while some people say the penalties are too strong.”

The “bad actor” penalties that Pretlow alluded to refer to proposed fines that would be assessed to PokerStars parent company Amaya – resulting from the world’s largest online poker room continuing to serve American players after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 was passed.

The debate over bad actor penalties, or more specifically, the extent to which they should be imposed, has been cited as the key factor scuttling California’s decade-long online poker debate.

Two days later, Pretlow made the demise of S-3898 official while speaking to NY Daily News:

“There was some opposition; we’ll pick it up next year more than likely.”

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Pennsylvania House Passes iGaming Bill to Set Stage for Final Negotiations with Senate

Pennsylvania House Passes iGaming Bill to Set Stage for Final Negotiations with Senate

Exactly two weeks after the Pennsylvania Senate voted to pass a comprehensive gambling bill, one which would regulate online casino games, slots, poker, and daily fantasy sports (DFS), the state’s House has done the same.

In a vote held on June 7, the full House voted 102-89 in favor of passing H-271 – an omnibus legislation package which expands Pennsylvania’s land-based casino industry, while creating a new regulatory framework for legal online gambling.

The next stage in the legislative process sends the bill back to the Senate, which passed its own version of H-271 by a 38-12 margin on May 24. But despite an apparent agreeance between the two bodies on the issue of iGaming regulation, the version of H-271 passed by the House differs in several major ways from the Senate’s previous attempt.

The Senate’s preferred model would see annual revenue generated by online slots and table games taxed at a rate of 54 percent, with the tax dropping to 16 percent for online poker.

Under the Senate’s plan, Pennsylvania would also charge online casino operators a licensing fee of $ 5 million, while online poker operators would pay a secondary licensing fee of $ 5 million – bringing the total cost to $ 10 million for most major iGaming companies which connect both platforms.

The text of H-271 as passed by the House modifies this taxation scheme – which is much higher than the 17.5 percent rate successfully implemented by neighboring New Jersey – to institute a flat 16 percent tax on all online gambling revenue. The dual licensing fee plan has also been modified, with the House seeking a one-time payment of $ 8 million to cover online casino and/or poker operators.

The partisan breakdown for the House vote saw 24 Democrats break ranks to join 78 Republicans voting for H-271, while 38 GOP lawmakers added their names to the list of 53 Democrats standing in opposition.

As reported by PennLive, Representative Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) – who serves as the House Majority Leader – discussed the higher revenue projections attached to the adjusted H-271:

“This is building upon the Senate proposal and will actually enhance revenue a little further.”

Initial revenue projections tabbed the potential increase from H-271’s passage at between $ 109 million and $ 147 million, under the Senate’s higher tax rate. But with many major iGaming operators already balking at the 54 percent tax, going on record to say they’ll simply sit out rather than join Pennsylvania’s new market, Reed’s prediction of “enhanced revenue” is based on attracting the industry’s most established operators to the state.

According to the House’s own revenue projections, the new version of H-271 would generate between $ 250 million and $ 300 million in new revenue for the state.

That increase of more than double takes into account the most controversial aspect of the House’s amended bill, which allows for casino gaming via video gaming terminals (VGTs) to be installed within non-gaming locations like airports and cafés.

Even so, Reed told PennLive that the House is actively seeking to avoid the sort of inflated revenue forecasts that have plagued states like Massachusetts and New York during similar iGaming legislation discussions:

“We want the most conservative estimate possible. We don’t want to overestimate revenues and I know that was a request of the administration and the governor’s office as well.”

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks County) told PennLive that the inclusion of VGTs could be a potential deal-breaker for lawmakers who already had reservations about gambling expansion:

“This has the potential to be a disaster for our children, our families and our communities.”

Following the House vote, the Senate will now reevaluate the text of H-271 – with tax rates and the VGT issue chief among the negotiating hurdles. Should the two bodies reach a compromise, the final text of H-271 would then be sent to Governor Tom Wolf to be signed into law.

For his part, Gov. Wolf has remained on the proverbial sidelines during the extended debate, offering no public statements for or against H-271.

That trend continued after the House vote, as a spokesperson for Gov. Wolf offered only a noncommittal comment on the matter:

“(The Governor) is committed to continuing to work with all four caucuses to reach consensus on a gaming proposal.”

If and when Pennsylvania pushes its iGaming legislation through into codified law, the Keystone State will become the fourth in America to legalize and regulate online gambling – joining Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware.

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Pennsylvania Senate Passes State’s First iGaming Bill; Massachusetts Senator Slows Momentum

Pennsylvania Senate Passes State’s First iGaming Bill; Massachusetts Senator Slows Momentum

When legislative sessions commenced across the country to begin the year, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts were considered likely candidates to legalize and regulate online gambling.

But after a whirlwind week of legislative action in both states, only Pennsylvania appears to be pushing forward on the iGaming front, with Massachusetts punting on the issue until next year.

On May 23, the Pennsylvania Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee passed H-271 via an 11-3 vote. That same day, the Senate Appropriations Committee also moved the bill – which calls for the regulation of online slots, casino games, poker, and daily fantasy sports (DFS) – forward by a 24-2 margin.

One day later, the full Senate voted 38-12 in favor of passing Pennsylvania’s first online gambling bill.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) – who sponsored his own iGaming legislation this year and has been a vocal supporter of the issue – spoke from the Senate floor on the importance of retaining iGaming enthusiasts and the revenue streams they create:

“To not have those folks, we lose business along those lines, but more importantly, we lose an opportunity, an opportunity to have people who would be playing in that space.”

The Senate estimates that online gambling license fees and yearly taxation will generate between $ 110 million and $ 147 million next year, badly needed funds that have already been earmarked by Governor Tom Wolf to help resolve the state’s budget deficit.

Those projections are largely based on licensing fees, which H-271 sets at $ 5 million apiece for online poker and casino platforms – and $ 10 million for operators choosing to offer both. With up to 12 iGaming licenses slated to be issued, one for each of the state’s current land-based gambling licensees, garnering an eight-figure sum should be an attainable goal.

However, by passing H-271 and not one of three other iGaming bills introduced this year, Pennsylvania opted for the highest proposed tax rate of 54 percent on slot/casino revenue (poker will be taxed at 16 percent). And as Steve Ruddock of Online Poker Report has pointed out, that enormous tax burden may be enough to force smaller sites to sit on the sidelines, as the current 17.5 percent tax on iGaming revenue in New Jersey allows operators to retain just 5 cents on every dollar earned.

The House of Representatives will review H-271 in June and add its own amendments, before voting to send the iGaming issue to Governor Wolf’s desk.

Unfortunately, players in Massachusetts will be forced to wait another year for iGaming to launch, after Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) halted all momentum on the issue:

In a recent interview with Boston Herald Radio, Rosenberg outlined the Senate’s strategic approach to handling the current push to regulate both online lottery sales alongside slots, casino games, and poker:

“Online lottery and online gaming are both issues that are being reviewed now to try to figure out how we manage the situation so we don’t hurt the Lottery.

And in the case of online gaming that we don’t hurt the casino industry we’re building in Massachusetts.
We could potentially act next year… potentially.”

The Massachusetts Senate passed an online lottery measure last year, but it eventually stalled within the House amidst concerns that internet sales would inordinately effect the state’s traditional lottery system.

The state did manage to sign a DFS bill into law last year, which triggered the creation of the Massachusetts Special Commission on Online Gaming, Fantasy Sports Gaming and Daily Fantasy Sports. The panel was tasked with studying the latest online lottery and iGaming bills introduced to begin 2017, and their recommendations are scheduled to be published on July 31.

Rosenberg has decided that the best course of action is to wait for the results of that report, before crafting new legislative language for introduction in 2018.

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West Virginia Sports Betting Bill Gains Momentum; Could Set Stage for PAPSA Challenge in Supreme Court

West Virginia Sports Betting Bill Gains Momentum; Could Set Stage for PAPSA Challenge in Supreme Court

After introducing a strongly worded bill that would legalize sports betting in the state, West Virginia appears poised to join New Jersey in challenging a longstanding federal prohibition.

A coalition of 11 lawmakers within the state’s House of Representatives introduced House Bill 2751 – officially titled “Legalizing Sport Pool Betting” – on March 1.

If passed, HB-2751 would call on the West Virginia State Lottery Commission to create the regulatory framework needed to allow the state’s brick and mortar casinos to operate on-site sportsbooks.

In choosing specific legislative language, lawmakers signaled West Virginia’s willingness to dispute the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992. That federal law forms the basis for the current ban on sports betting, which covers all but four American states (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana).

The textual language contained within HB-2751 immediately clarifies West Virginia’s stance on PAPSA, stating that the “legislature finds” Congress “unlawfully enacted” the law.

Going one step further, the bill’s authors include a section “finding that federal law prohibiting sports betting in West Virginia is unconstitutional,” before offering a final legislative finding stating the “federal government has no authority to prohibit sports betting in West Virginia.”

As documented by sports betting lawyer Daniel Wallach, writing for Legal Sports Report, the precise wording of these sections suggests that West Virginia is well aware of New Jersey’s ongoing struggle to challenge PAPSA.

Wallach cites the pivotal Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA), Inc. v. Holder, 2011 WL 802106 (D.N.J. Mar. 7, 2011), in which several plaintiffs – including iMEGA, the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and state senator Raymond Lesniak – brought their case against PAPSA to federal district court.

That court dismissed the lawsuit on the basis of judicial “standing,” a provision of the Constitution’s Article III which essentially holds that the federal judiciary will only hear “cases or controversies” that are actually occurring, and not merely hypothetical:

“Any civil enforcement action [to challenge PASPA] would be premature, because New Jersey law does not permit the sports gambling sought by Plaintiffs … [and if] PASPA were found unconstitutional, New Jersey law would still prohibit the sports gambling activities Plaintiffs and their members seek to legalize.”

In layman’s terms, New Jersey’s initial PAPSA challenge failed because state law doesn’t allow for sports betting as it currently stands.

This ruling resulted in New Jersey putting the issue to voters via public referendum, which was overwhelmingly passed to amend the state constitution to allow sports betting.

West Virginia’s bill seeks to cut the judicial standing argument out of the equation preemptively, by using the language of “legislative findings” to declare that sports betting is already authorized within the jurisdiction.

Looking forward, that strategy would set the stage – assuming the legislature passes HB-2751 and Governor Jim Justice signs it into law – for the State Lottery Commission to formulate sports betting licensing procedures. From there, the four major professional sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL), along with the NCAA, would be expected to issue cease and desist letters to the state – as happened in New Jersey following that state’s successful referendum.

Any subsequent lawsuits stemming from that dispute would be heard by the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, with that jurisdiction’s eventual ruling likely to be challenged to the Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals, and then to the Supreme Court if necessary.

West Virginia’s legislative session ends on April 8, and HB-2751 is currently being considered by the state’s House Judiciary Committee.

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Russia Introduces Bill to Ban International iGaming Transactions

Russia Introduces Bill to Ban International iGaming Transactions

As the ongoing cyberwar waged by Russia on various Western democracies rages on in the shadows, the country’s government has made the iGaming industry an explicit target.

Per reporting published by the Russian news service RBC.ru and industry outlet iGamingBusiness.com last week, the country’s Ministry of Finance has introduced a bill which would ban financial transactions made between Russian citizens and international online gambling operators.

Officially known as Bill 1113576-6, this anti-iGaming legislation was first submitted to the State Duma – a legislative body loosely akin to the U.K. parliament or U.S. Congress – back in 2015. That initial draft proved to be contentious, however, with several government ministries and Russian financial institutions objecting to its strict limitations.

Even so, the original version of the bill did receive support from Russia’s autocratic ruler, as President Vladimir Putin expressed his approval for tighter iGaming regulations.

After several rounds of revision and amendment, the bill has returned – largely intact on the fundamental level – to the forefront of the Duma’s legislative agenda.

Having recently been passed through a second reading, the consensus among Russian political experts is that the bill’s passage is a foregone conclusion.

If and when that passage occurs, the Federal Task Force would begin compiling a so-called “blacklist” of internationally licensed online gambling operators which currently serve Russian customers. From there, any attempt to deposit money to one of these banned sites would be blocked by the facilitating bank, credit card company, or online payment processor.

Alexander Zakondyrin, a politician and lawyer based in Moscow, described the financial impetus for such a blacklist to Business Insider in January of 2016:

“Russians play poker, but their money goes abroad. In the crisis situation, low oil prices and sanctions against Russia, which excludes the use of foreign debt markets, Russia’s budget needs additional income.”

As Russia continues its attempts to enter the modern world of regulated online gaming – and reap the tax benefits therein – the country’s conservative government has made incremental progress. Online sports betting is now offered on a legal basis by licensed domestic operators, although online poker and casino games remain illegal.

Accordingly, one of the blacklisted operators that would be targeted by this bill’s passage would be PokerStars. Currently, the global leader in online poker reports more than 8 percent of its worldwide player base accessing the site from Russian IP addresses.

Online poker in Russia isn’t limited to PokerStars either, as a 2016 article published by PokerNews quoted academic researcher Roberto Carmona-Borjas’ estimate that 16 percent – or 20 million Russians – currently play on one platform or another.

In light of that and similar reporting, and taking the lucrative nature of online poker among iGaming enterprises, certain insiders believe that the Russian government’s new bill is designed to effect regulation rather than prohibition.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation, offered the following appraisal of the online poker debate last year:

“It should be legalized; too many people are involved and are playing online. There are no reasons that it should be hidden and illegal.

I am working together with the government in order to allow online poker to become an intellectual sport in Russia.”

Zakondryin went one step further, expressing his belief that legal online poker would soon follow sports betting:

“In my opinion, conceptually the decision to legalize online poker has been already made by the Russian government. As early as June 2014, Shuvalov instructed the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Justice to prepare a report on such a project’s prospects.”

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