Historic Vote For Online Poker Accompanied By Bad News

New York Senate Passes Online Poker Bill, But Key Lawmaker Calls Effort ‘Dead’

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There were mixed signals coming out of New York and its late legislative push to regulate online poker on Tuesday.

One one hand, the Senate passed Sen. John Bonacic’s iPoker bill by a wide margin after some debate on Tuesday evening.

On the other, Assemblymember Gary Pretlow was reportedly saying online poker regulation was dead in his chamber.

What does all of that mean? It’s difficult to tell, but we’ll find out within a few days, as the legislature plans to adjourn on Thursday.

The NY Senate on online poker

The bill from Bonacic —S5302 — passed by a vote of 53-5.

It is the first time an online gambling and/or poker bill has been passed by any chamber in any of the states currently considering online poker and gambling bills beyond the three that have already legalized it — New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware.

Earlier this month, the Bonacic bill was approved by its second committee. That move was applauded by MGM Resorts. MGM General Counsel John McManus again weighed in on Tuesday:

“Creating a safe, regulated option for online poker players in New York would generate millions in new tax revenue that could be used for education and other critical investments.

“We applaud the Senate for passing this sensible legislation that will help protect New Yorkers who have for years played online poker on unprotected, off-shore poker websites that today operate with no regulation, fraud controls, or age restrictions.  This bill will open opportunities for all providers of online poker to deliver a safe, regulated alternative.” 

Just last week, Bonacic said online poker legislation was a favorite to pass over DFS regulation.

Pretlow on online poker

On the same day, Pretlow — the Assembly’s gaming chairman — declared the online poker bill “dead,” according to the Buffalo News:

Pretlow also said he believes a push to legalize online poker wagering – with the state and existing and future casinos in the state sharing in the profits – is dead. The state’s racetrack-based casinos are trying to keep that measure alive, or to get a piece of the action with the fantasy sports legislation – an attempt that has been an uphill climb for weeks.

Pretlow did not offer any reason, at least publicly, for why his poker bill has seen no action despite the Senate activity.

Pretlow introduced his bill in January, and in April he said the odds of his poker bill coming up before the full Assembly were pretty long.

So, is online poker dead or alive?

The dissonance between the two chambers — the Senate moving legislation forward while the Assembly takes no action — is difficult to square.

Is the bill just going to die on the vine, despite all the progress? Could Bonacic and the Senate want to create some momentum for online poker for next year? Could there be pressure on the Assembly to act now that the Senate has pushed through a bill? Is there a chance that the iPoker language will end up in an omnibus bill at the end of the session?

We will likely find out the answers to some of these questions and online poker’s fate for 2016 in New York in a matter of days.

- 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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