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Groundhog Day: New York Senate votes in favor of MMA (again), turning focus to Assembly (again)

Stephen Pond

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a bill to legalize mixed martial arts in New York passed through the State Senate today.

If you've been paying attention, you've actually heard that multiple times already. Yes, for the fifth straight year, the New York State Senate voted in favor of legalizing MMA. The vote in favor of the Bill No. S6502 was 44-16 on Tuesday in Albany, down from last year's vote of 47-14.

In order for the sport to be legalized in the New York, though, the bill must also pass through the Assembly. And therein lies the problem. For the past four years, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has refused to even bring it up for a vote, and with the 2014 New York State Legislative session calendar coming to an end on June 19, time, once again, is ticking away.

"We once again thank the State Senate – Democrats and Republicans – for giving overwhelming approval to legislation to legalize and regulate MMA in New York State, the last place in North America where professional MMA remains illegal," UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta stated in a press release. Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the UFC, has lobbied in favor of the bill more so than any other MMA promoter.

"The attention turns yet again to the Assembly.  Hopefully the Assembly will finally recognize that enacting this law is the right thing for the millions of fans, the right thing for ensuring the safety of amateur and professional MMA athletes, the right thing for tourism and economic development, the right thing for the arenas and the union jobs they provide.

"I have no choice but to be cautiously optimistic.  Mr. Speaker, make 2014 the year this gets done."

While amateur MMA is legal, New York is the only state or province in North America where professional MMA is currently banned. Silver's unexplainable reluctance to bring the bill up for a vote has been tied to the Culinary Union of Nevada Local 226's ongoing battle with the Fertitta family to unionze its Station Casinos in Nevada. The Culinary Union's parent company, UNITE HERE, has been lobbying against the bill to legalize MMA for years.

"The speaker does not personally approve of MMA," Michael Whyland, press secretary to Silver, told the New York Daily News in November. "But ultimately it is up to the members and there simply has not been enough support in the Democrat conference to bring it to a vote."

Former New York Gov. George Pataki banned the sport in 1997. In November, Fertitta projected a $135 million in annual economic activity should the sport be sanctioned, as well as five yearly shows in New York state.

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