New York Online Poker Bill Fails in 2017
The 2017 New York online poker bill failed to gain approval in 2017, though its sponsors in the state legislature vowed to submit the bill again in 2018. With the New York legislative schedule finished on June 21, no other opportunities exist for new proposals this year.
Because it is not an election year, the legislative schedule ended in June. For the same reason, when the 2018 legislative session begins, lawmakers do not have to restart the process. When New York’s politicians meet again, the bill might receive a quick vote on the General Assembly floor.
SB 3898 Failed in the General Assembly
Senate Bill 3898 passed in the New York Senate earlier this month by a 54-8 vote. State Senator John Bonacic, who introduced a similar bill in 2016, introduced SB 3898 in the Senate.
In the New York General Assembly, Gary Pretlow sponsored a similar proposal. Assemblyman Pretlow ushered the bill through the Racing, Wagering, and Gaming Committee by a 10-1 vote. Like the 2016 legislation, the 2017 New York online poker bill died in the General Assembly.
This time around, Gary Pretlow was blameless. In December 2016, Pretlow withdrew support for Bonacic’s poker legislation when he suggested poker might be a game of chance. Poker players contend their game is a game of skill, because professionals make a living as card players. Poker players gain an advantage by reading an opponent, disguising the strength of their poker hands, and calculating pot odds.
Pretlow Sees Online Poker as a Game of Skill
In the six months since, Gary Pretlow spoke with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to receive a firmer understanding of poker. He is comfortable with the game, but said he could not get enough assemblymen to agree on the bill’s parameters.
The question of skill or chance was not the issue. In the run-up to the current legislative effort, Gary Pretlow predicted widespread support. He told Andrew Whitman of FIOS1 News, “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 there’s going to be much opposition to moving this along.”
Bad Actor Clauses Kill the Online Poker Bill
Instead, Gary Pretlow said the same “bad actor” clauses sidetracked the 2017 New York online poker bill. Those are the same arguments which sidetracked California’s online poker legislation these past few years. Gary Pretlow said those assemblymen he approached split on whether to include bad actor stipulations to the bill. The politicians also could not agree on how those clauses might read.
As always, PokerStars was the center of the bad actor arguments. Because PokerStars accepted US poker players after the passage of UIGEA in 2006, it violated American federal gambling laws from January 2007 to April 2011. Lawmakers wanted to term PokerStars a “bad actor” and ban the online cardroom from the New York iPoker market. The alternative was to impose a fine and/or a partial ban on PokerStars, such as the 5-year ban some California lawmakers once suggested.
Such a ban is important, because PokerStars is a titan of online poker. With about 70% of the world’s online poker population, PokerStars dominates any market it enters. New York would have required online poker sites to partner with a land-based casino license holder. That would have meant PokerStars and one casino licensee would have dominated New York online poker. That leaves a lot of companies out in the cold, which means little political support in the Assembly.
Too Close to the Poker Bill Deadline
Assemblyman Pretlow indicated that the bad actor debate was trouble due to the limited time frame. Given months to discuss terms, lawmakers in the General Assembly might resolve the bad actor clauses in any 2018 online poker bill. This is a setback for those who wanted the New York online poker bill to pass, but hopefully it’s a temporary setback.
Due to the way New York’s legislature works, John Bonacic and Gary Pretlow will start in the middle of the process in 2018. With a bit of preparation, Pretlow might bring an online poker bill to the General Assembly floor in short order. Perhaps he can forestall a major lobbying effort while the Assembly is in session. The bad actor issue is always complicated, so nothing is likely to come easy.
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