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Sabini wants legalization of gambling in bars

"Poker games like Texas Hold 'Em have become a mainstream national craze, more about the game itself than gambling, and I have a bill that would allow the state's tax coffers and charities to benefit from this," said Sabini, the ranking member of the state Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee."The country's media broadcast poker tournaments regularly, converting new players who play for fun and not necessarily money every day," Sabini said."New York state's bar, restaurant and club owners cannot allow such games in their establishments for fear of being accused of allowing gambling on their premises," Sabini said.Sabini's office said that if passed, the legislation was expected to draw back some of the patrons of bars, restaurants and clubs lost in the city when smoking was made illegal in 2003.Sabini said his bill would permit bars, restaurants and clubs to allow games of poker to be played, thereby increasing their customer base and revenues.New York state law forbids anything of value to be wagered or awarded in a game of chance. Poker is considered a game of chance rather than of skill as far as the law is concerned.It is legal to play poker in a bar if players do not put up any money or property or anything else of value to play and if they do not receive anything of value if they win.Sabini's bill allows low-stakes wagering and has built-in protection to prevent high-stakes wagering.David Rabin, co-owner of the New York City club Lotus and a self professed 'poker junkie,' is a supporter of the bill."I think it's a realistic recognition of the explosion of poker and there's no reason not to bring it out of the back rooms," Rabin said.If passed, the bill, S5399, would still require establishments regulated by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control law to apply for a license allowing "social poker" from its local municipality, such as the City Council in New York City.Among rules included in the bill are those preventing games from being abused or manipulated to allow high stakes gaming tournaments.The proposed legislation specifies establishments could charge no more than $50 per person for admission to poker tournaments, games could last no more than 24 hours and winners may receive a cash price not exceeding $100 with all others receiving non-cash prizes. Players may be issued poker chips to be used to play each game and determine the winner, but players shall not bet anything of monetary value."The intense popularity of poker presents an opportunity we should not run from," Sabini said. "Besides removing the stigma from a popular American pastime, this will bring real monetary benefits to legitimate businesses and charities that are struggling around the state."Sabini, first elected in 2002, represents parts of Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst and Woodside.Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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