New York Lawmakers to Try Online Poker Bill Again
It has been a sad and familiar story for online poker bills in New York. A lawmaker decides it’s time for his state to move into the new age of gaming and proposes an online poker bill. Allowing online poker and online casino operators to partner with land-based casinos in New York will provide all entities with a new revenue stream, one that could withstand everything from a pandemic to any unforeseen circumstances.
Every year since 2016, however, the proposal(s) hit their first committee(s) and stall from there. Most often, lawmakers’ priorities change. One year, their focus might be on expanding land-based casinos. The next year, it might be to legalize or expand sports betting. Whatever their focus, online poker always makes its way quickly to the back burner.
This year, they want to try again.
Should the online poker community get its hopes up?
Year After Year
The first major effort to legalize online poker came in the 2014-2015 session.
Pretlow today proposes (A9509) state grant 10 licenses to run internet gambling limited, for now anyway, to Texas (and Omaha) Hold'em poker.
— Tom Precious (@TomPreciousALB) May 5, 2014
In 2016, the issue garnered more attention when then-State Senator John Bonacic put a bill up in the Senate and Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow did the same in the Assembly. Pretlow appeared to kill his own bill when expressed doubts about the security of online poker, following up on concerns from fellow lawmakers.
In 2017, Bonacic pushed his Senate bill, which did pass the New York Senate by a significant margin. Pretlow did the House bill no help, though, when he highlighted the bad actor clause that would have prohibited PokerStars from obtaining a license. That bill died.
Assemblyman Clyde Vanel championed the House bill the following year and brought on nearly 50 cosponsors, and Bonacic moved his bill that year through the Finance Committee. But neither bill went any further.
Bonacic helped NY DFS law became a reality and has led the charge for online poker. If the latter doesn't happen this year, possibly bad news for future of online poker. https://t.co/ybahZ5y9sO
— Dustin Gouker (@DustinGouker) April 27, 2018
Bonacic retired after that, and State Senator Joe Addabbo jumped into action. He and Pretlow submitted bills in 2019 and 2020, but sports betting issues took precedence both years. While Addabbo repeatedly said that the online poker bill was important, he knew that sports betting had more economic potential and bipartisan support.
Each year, including the past two, have told the same story. There are bills introduced…that receive little attention after filing.
In 2022, though, Addabbo noted that Michigan joining MSIGA (Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement) gave the issue more potential for 2023. Last year, he said it would be on the agenda for January 2023 – an online casino and online poker proposal – and there would be an effort to work the estimated economic benefits into the next year’s budget.
New Year, New Bill
Despite Addabbo’s assertion that MSIGA would prompt New York to get on the online poker train, it doesn’t seem likely that a poker-only bill would pass the legislature. And that’s exactly what Pretlow introduced on January 17.
Assembly Bill 1380 will legalize “certain interactive poker games” that would be classified as games of skill rather than luck. In Pretlow’s memo attached to the bill, he stated the purpose as:
“To authorize the New York State Gaming Commission to license certain entities to offer for play to the public certain variants of internet poker which require a significant degree of skill, specifically ‘Omaha Hold’em’ and ‘Texas Hold’em.’”
Specifically, the bill calls for:
-amending the Racing, Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Breeding Law” with Article 15 for online poker to be licensed in New York
-authorize up to 11 licenses
-each license will be effective for 10 years and cost $10M
-taxes paid will offset the license fee for the first 60 months of operations
-licensees will pay 15% tax on interactive gaming gross revenue
Pretlow then explains that many New York residents currently play poker online at “illegal, unregulated and unsafe gaming operations,” but the new law would protect consumers, enable responsible gambling, and prevent minors from playing. The bill will also create a new revenue stream.
A01380 immediately went to the Racing and Wagering Committee for consideration.
Meanwhile, Addabbo has yet to introduce a companion bill on the Senate side.
Is 2023 Different?
Every year, at least one of the sponsors of online poker legislation expresses confidence on the subject. But as the legislative session moves forward, they admit that other priorities take over, and online poker will have to wait another year.
In addition, it remains a problem that the bill – at least Pretlow’s bill, the only one introduced thus far – is for online poker only. A look at the other states that have legalized igaming show that online casino games generate the vast majority of igaming revenue. Online poker is and will continue to be a small percentage of said revenue until many more states link their player pools via MSIGA.
Personally, I don't see this bill passing. I would expect the conversation around online casinos to overshadow it. There's no money in poker, so I can't see any state bothering with it except in conjunction with casino gaming.
— Bonus.com (@BonusUpdate) January 18, 2023
Even if the poker-only bill has a chance, it will need some amendments to allow online poker operators to work on the same level as other states. If, for example, some cash games and some tournaments do not fit Pretlow’s “certain” games list, operators will not be able to connect their New York sites with those in Michigan or New Jersey, for example.
The only chance, it appears, is for Addabbo to step in with a more comprehensive bill and a firm grasp on igaming, specifically poker.