Bonacic said that he spoke with Assemblymember J. Gary Pretlow following the Senate vote and was pleased with what he heard.
“He said he’s very close to getting this on the floor,” Bonacic said. “I know he’s working hard to get it done.”
Bonacic indicated that a key difference between this bill and the one that didn’t get even a hint of consideration from the Assembly after Senate passage last year is that all tax revenue from online poker would now go into the state lottery fund for education rather than the general fund.
“That’s an important carrot for the Assembly,” Bonacic said.
The legislature is looking for ways to mitigate projected budget deficits of $4.5 billion, $6 billion and $7.5 billion in the next three years. The Assembly wants to raise revenue without increasing property taxes, and online poker could be the answer.
“This is a proven product,” Bonacic said. “We have knowledge of the results of what our sister state is doing right next door. Jersey’s experience has been enhanced revenue to the state and at the casino as a result of online poker. All our racinos and casinos want it.”
Pretlow chairs the Assembly Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee, where the bill has been referred.
The New York legislative session is scheduled to end June 21.
Bills in the Assembly need to be active on the floor for three days before they are ready for a final vote, so Pretlow would need to get the bill through his committee and on the active list by Monday morning, assuming that the Assembly will be working past midnight on Wednesday into Thursday.
The bill would then need approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been largely silent on the issue.
“The governor’s office has not said he’s against it,” Bonacic said. “He knows casinos and racinos want it. He knows we need revenue. So, I think he will sign it.”
The New York legislative session beings in January. Since the Senate already passed the online poker bill last year, you might expect the Senate to vote on the new bill in January and give the Assembly plenty of time to consider the issue.
Unfortunately, every year New York lawmakers act as though they are back in college, waiting to pull an all-night study session before the final exam.
“The way Albany works, and there’s no excuse for it, is that the last three weeks of the session we’ll look at 1,200 bills,” Bonacic said. “We always ask the question, ‘Why didn’t you start this stuff between January and May?’ But it’s just the way our system works.
“Everything gets loaded up on the back end, and I think they do that to leverage things against other things in order to get a big package done.”
Bonacic expects that the Assembly will look at online poker as part of a larger negotiation rather than a freestanding bill, and that makes the prospects more unpredictable.
New York legislative sessions often end with a “big ugly,” or an omnibus bill passed at the last minute with many unrelated parts.
“I’m more optimistic this year than last year, but I’m not familiar with the leverage game they may be doing to tie things together,” Bonacic said. “I don’t know if online poker will be held hostage by some other things the Assembly wants to do that have nothing to do with gambling.”