Introduction Of House Poker Bill Coupled With Hearing Indicates Momentum in NY

Is Online Poker Bill Getting A Real Look In New York With Senate Hearing?

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An online poker bill is on the agenda of a New York Senate committee next week, the latest indication that the state could be getting serious about regulating online gambling.

The new Senate hearing on poker

The Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee will consider S5302B, a bill by Sen. John Bonacic, who chairs the committee. He originally introduced the bill in May of 2015, but it was never voted on in committee. It was put back on the active legislative agenda earlier this month.

The hearing will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 9:30 a.m.

The bill was amended to match a House version of the bill introduced last week — A9049.

Here are the basics of those bills, which set up a regulatory scheme for online poker in the state, while making it explicitly legal:

  • Allows up to 10 licenses to operate online poker sites.
  • The licensing fee is $10 million, and is good for 10 years.
  • The tax rate is 15% of gross gaming revenue.
  • Entering into an agreement to share liquidity with other states — like the compact between Nevada and Delaware — is allowed.
  • The gaming commission is put in charge of consumer protection standards regarding age, geolocation, segregation of player funds, etc.

Background of online poker bills in New York

The first signal that online poker could be back on the legislature’s radar was the introduction of an Assembly version of Bonacic’s bill. That legislation was penned by Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, head of the Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering.

While Pretlow introduced a bill in 2014, he did not in 2015. This marks the third consecutive year that an online poker bill will be before the state legislature.

An informational hearing was held in September, but it was not apparent then that there would be much momentum for the bill in the short-term.

Bonacic has spearheaded efforts to regulate online poker in the state, largely to no avail. But after September’s hearing, he indicated that he had no intention of giving up on it:

“The hearing brought forth a large amount of good information on the subject of online poker – one point that I specifically thought was interesting was that 85% of those who engaged in online gaming in New Jersey had never set foot in a casino prior to gaming online.  I expect that as I work with my colleagues in the Senate, as well as the Governor’s office and the Assembly, there will be significant discussions on a myriad of issues regarding the bill.”

Added momentum for online poker?

What is different this time around for iPoker legislation in New York?

Pennsylvania and online gambling

Pennsylvania appears that it will strongly consider legalizing online poker and casino gaming this year. After numerous committee hearings, iGaming legislation actually made it to the House floor before its progress was stunted during budget talks.

Despite that minor setback, the legislature appears to be set to consider a gambling expansion package that includes online poker and casino this spring or summer.

It’s certainly possible that Pennsylvania’s action could be an incentive for New York to act more quickly on regulation, before its neighbor to the south beats it to the punch.

Daily fantasy sports

There is an added variable in the mix this time around for online poker: The daily fantasy sports industry. New York’s attorney general has opined that DFS constitutes illegal gambling in the state, and operators DraftKings and FanDuel are challenging that in court.

The battle over the legality of DFS is putting some urgency behind a legislative solution that would allow the industry to continue in New York. There are a few bills in play:

Some observers believe — or at least hope — that online poker can piggyback on DFS discussions in the state. In other words, if you’re going to regulate one type of online gaming, why not look at others simultaneously. There’s at least some chance that could happen in New York.

That’s an idea that has been floated in both Massachusetts and California. Whether it could gain momentum in New York remains to be seen.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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