New York’s legislature failed to pass a bill that would legalize online poker as it wrapped up business for 2016 in all-night session over the weekend.
After unprecedented momentum for online poker, New York should be considered a favorite to pass an online poker bill in 2017.
To almost everyone’s surprise, Sen. John Bonacic’s online poker bill passed the Senate in its final week before adjournment.
And it wasn’t just that it passed the Senate. It passed by such a wide margin — 53-5 — that it gave hope that New York online poker could actually reach the finish line in 2016.
But even as that vote was taking place, the poker bill’s sponsor in the Assembly — Gary Pretlow — was calling the effort dead. And that turned out to be true, as the bill was never considered in a committee vote.
“There is no easy way to swallow coming up short in New York this year,” Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas told Online Poker Report. “Even though internet poker regulation was a longshot, we did a tremendous job of positioning the issue and making it relevant.”
Why should New Yorkers be bullish on playing legal online poker in the not-to-distant future?
When Bonacic brought the bill for consideration in front of the full Senate, he had a lengthy back-and-forth with one senator, Liz Krueger.
Krueger is an opponent of all most things gambling — or at least continued expansions of gambling.(She also spoke out against a daily fantasy sports bill that ended up passing.)
She brought up all the arguments that we’ve heard ad nauseam from the morality police/Sheldon Adelson/Restoration of America’s Wire Act supporters. She questioned whether minors could be stopped from playing (they can) and said online poker would turn people into zombies (not so much).
In New York, at least, these arguments are ringing hollow, as there are just five people in the Senate who voted against the bill.
And whatever is holding it up in the Assembly, it’s likely not these issues.
While the online poker advocacy effort paled in comparison to the more than 100,000 contacts that DFS players had with lawmakers, it was still a good one.
Pappas said that the PPA tracked 10,000 points of contact with lawmakers, via emails, phone calls and tweets.
“I am especially heartened that so many New Yorkers took time to contact their lawmakers,” Pappas said. “There is little doubt that this activism paved the way for the overwhelming vote in support of the bill in the New York Senate.”
The DFS bill passed largely as a consumer protection measure, and as something that would legalize an industry existing in a gray area. It did so despite generating little meaningful revenue for the state.
Bonacic was also pushing his poker bill as a consumer protection measure. He noted that people are playing online poker at offshore sites already, with no oversight of those operators.
The consumer protection refrain is being used in other states, as well. If it worked for DFS, can it eventually work for poker? It’s at least possible.
Of course, online poker also could generate tens of millions of dollars for the state, on top of the above concerns.
This is the million-dollar question in New York. Why does a bill with overwhelming support in the Senate lack momentum — at least according to Pretlow — in the Assembly?
On more than one occasion, Pretlow has said that there the bill faced long odds in his chamber.
But we also don’t know why Pretlow and the Assembly took no action; Pretlow has never characterized why the bill didn’t move this year. Previously, the state’s gaming interests all hadn’t been on board, but now they are.
“Clearly, we could not convince everyone that regulation needs to happen now,” Pappas said. “So we are going to redouble our education efforts over the summer and into next year. We want to make sure that internet poker is first in line when the new legislative session begins.”
Whatever the problem is for Pretlow and the Assembly, we can expect it to be addressed during the next legislative session. Online poker has been on New York’s radar since 2013, and it’s hard to imagine it being dropped entirely after the historic and lopsided vote in the Senate.
It’s said in a lot of states when an online poker effort fails, but next year actually might be the year for online poker in New York.