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After the New York Senate included online poker in its budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, there was hope that the Assembly could be convinced to let it in by the April 1 deadline for a new state budget.
Pretlow, author of the Assembly bill to legalize and regulate online poker, told Online Poker Report in an exclusive interview that he is ready to go to battle for internet poker this year but that now is not the time.
“It won’t be in the final budget, I don’t believe, because there are people opposed to it who are higher than me and don’t want it in the budget,” Pretlow said.
“They want to do it separately and want to look at it more fully.”
Last year, Pretlow told me that he wasn’t going to be able to move his bill due to concerns over poker being a game of skill.
Progress has been made in that he now does view poker as a skill game, except that he thinks putting it online takes the skill factor away.
“Here’s the problem and why people in my house are opposed to calling it a game of skill,” Pretlow said. “When you question a poker player, one of the skill factors is defining tells in your opponent. There are no tells in online poker. You can’t read a facial expression. There is no interaction between players. To read the movement of an opponent — how they fumble chips — none of that is available in online poker.”
Pretlow no longer considers raising a bet to make poker gambling. He identifies that there is skill involved in wagering, but that alone isn’t enough to convince Assembly leadership to act.
“If you’re just dealing with the math — the algebra of poker, as I call it — yes, there is skill there,” Pretlow said. “But the other factor is reading your opponent, and that’s not there. It’s a question people have of me that I have yet to answer. We’ll probably overcome it, but it’s a battle.”
The other area that concerned Pretlow last year was the potential for cheating online, and his fears have only partially been assuaged.
Thanks to a geolocation demonstration, he no longer believes that five people sitting around a kitchen table with their laptops can team up against a stranger.
However, he’s still not convinced that collusion can be prevented online. He presented an example of three people in different parts of New York communicating their holdings to one another to fleece an unsuspecting mark.
“I’ve been told there are algorithms in place to stop that from happening,” Pretlow said. “But I probably need a better answer than that. It’s not stopping me from moving forward, it’s just a question I need answered.”
Classifying poker as a game of skill is essential in New York because the state constitution prohibits gambling outside of state lotteries, horse racing and casinos. By defining poker as a game of skill, the identical bills introduced by Pretlow in the Assembly and John Bonacic in the Senate avoid the restriction.
The Senate has had no reservations with this distinction. That legislative body overwhelmingly passed the online poker bill last year. Bonacic already unanimously moved the bill through his Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee in February.
If a bill does pass, Pretlow is certain it will face a legal challenge just as the daily fantasy sports legislation he got approved last year is being delayed by a lawsuit from anti-gambling group Stop Predatory Gambling claiming it is an expansion of gambling in violation of the state’s constitution.
“There are forces in New York opposed to all forms of gambling, from lottery up to playing roulette and everything in between,” Pretlow said. “If and when we do this, there will definitely be a lawsuit saying it’s unconstitutional, and the attorney general will defend us and he will win.”
After the budget is finished, Pretlow said he would focus on pushing online poker as a standalone bill.
In addition to convincing Assembly leadership, Pretlow indicated that he’s waiting to hear back from the attorney general’s office that the bill is constitutional. He also hasn’t gotten any indication where Gov. Andrew Cuomo stands on the issue.
As Democrats are generally considered friendlier to online poker regulation than Republicans, it’s interesting to note that the New York Senate is led by Republicans and the Assembly by Democrats. The speaker of the Assembly is Carl E. Heastie, a Democrat who represents areas of northeast Bronx.
Pretlow is in favor of gambling expansion as well. Once online poker is thriving in New York, he hopes to use it as a springboard to get the state constitution changed to allow for full online gaming.
That will take some time. Amending the constitution requires majority approval in the Senate and Assembly, a second passage in the next full legislative session following a general election of new members, and then it needs to be approved by the voting public.
“That’s the future,” said Pretlow, who also would eventually like to have sports betting in New York. “It probably is the next step, but I’m not looking there yet. It’s not in my field of vision now.”
Pretlow does not expect to hold a hearing on online poker in the Assembly Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee that he chairs, indicating that it would be repetitive. The bill needs to go through four committees — his own, Codes, Rules, and Ways and Means.
Rather than letting it die in another committee, he plans to hold it in his until he knows it will go through.
“When the people opposing it at higher levels than me come to see my point of view, it will move forward,” Pretlow said.
“Everything happens in June. We’ll do 1,500 bills in a year, and 1,000 of them are in June. Nothing is done until everything is done.”