The postings, with their populist tone, started appearing on Facebook and Twitter a few weeks ago. Their message was simple: If people in New Jersey can play poker online legally, New Yorkers should be able to as well. Online gambling casino.
Less obvious was who was behind the nascent campaign, called Let NY Play. The rallying cry, it turns out, emanated from the Las Vegas headquarters of one of the biggest casino operators in the world, MGM Resorts International.
MGM, which reported nearly $10 billion in sales and revenue last year, has no casino in New York and is not among the companies vying for one of the four casino licenses the state is preparing to grant. But MGM has made no secret of its ambition to be a big player in the expanding realm of online gambling.
The company has lobbied in Albany, where it supported legislation introduced this year to legalize online poker. The main sponsor of that proposal, State Senator John J. Bonacic, a Republican whose district includes the Catskills, said allowing people to play poker online could be a source of additional revenue for the state.
But he said he had warned representatives of MGM, when they met with him earlier this year, that getting the measure approved would take a while. Even then, they told him that the amount of activity and tax revenue would be modest to start, he said.
An analysis commissioned by MGM estimated that New York residents bet as much as $110 million in illegal online poker games. The study concluded that the state could reap $50 million to $80 million in annual taxes by converting those players to legalized games, as well as an additional $80 million from selling licenses to operate the sites.
Casino online gambling
All New York officials need do is look at what happened in New Jersey. In November 2013, New Jersey joined Nevada and Delaware in legalizing online gambling when it allowed the operators of casinos in Atlantic City to start taking bets on a variety of games of chance, such as blackjack and roulette, as well as hosting online poker games.
As of Monday night, the Facebook page for Let NY Play was closing in on 5,000 likes. The rallying cry in support of online gambling in New York emanated from the Las Vegas headquarters of MGM Resorts International.
Gov. Chris Christie projected that online gambling in New Jersey in its first year would generate $150 million in additional taxes from the ventures. But the idea has proved much less popular than expected. So far, online gambling revenue has averaged only about $10 million a month, producing a fraction of the taxes the state had hoped to collect.
“It’s been a little bit slower to start than some had expected,” said Alan Feldman, an executive vice president of MGM. “But we think over time it’s going to be exactly what they did expect and more.”
MGM officials have been among the most vocal proponents of online gambling, even though the company has virtually no presence in that part of the business yet. MGM owns half of the Borgata, a casino in Atlantic City that is one of the most popular with poker players and has an online gambling site. Mr. Feldman said the company was exploring the possibility of putting its brand on an online casino in New Jersey.
“There could be a separate site related to MGM in New Jersey,” he said.
For now in New York, the company is merely trying to gather support for online poker. Of all the casino games, Mr. Feldman said, “the reality is that poker is the one whose business model is already established and the one that would be the most acceptable and appropriate, certainly from a political point of view.”
But not all casino operators agree. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has been lobbying in Washington for a federal ban on online gambling, arguing that it is impossible to prevent underage players from participating and that it would undermine the casino industry and the jobs it provides.
But Mr. Feldman said that gambling over the Internet “is here, and it’s been here for a very long time.” He said studies of existing websites, both legal and illegal, indicate that millions of Americans gamble online.
Still, there is little evidence so far of a groundswell of support for online poker in New York. J. Gary Pretlow, a Democratic assemblyman from Mount Vernon who sponsored a companion bill to Senator Bonacic’s legislation, said he had heard “from one citizen in favor of online poker” and added that he intended “to hold off even looking at this with any kind of seriousness until after” the new casino licenses were sorted out.
Online casino gambling guide
As of Monday night, the Let NY Play feed on Twitter had 347 followers and the campaign’s Facebook page had 4,948 likes.