Michigan, Illinois have already made progress on existing iGaming bills

Online Gambling Bills Could Ramp Up Activity In Several States To Start New Year

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Lawmakers are back from their holiday breaks, and statehouses across the country are returning to session. As the 2018 calendar begins, a number of states are poised to consider online gambling legislation early on.

Here’s a look at some of the states that could move on iGaming within the next few months.

Massachusetts online gambling

Massachusetts is well-informed when it comes to iGaming. Lawmakers have been considering legislation for a couple years now, and the momentum seems to be picking up.

In 2016, the Special Commission on Online Gaming, Fantasy Sports Gaming, and Daily Fantasy Sports was created to study the issue. The commission narrowly recommended an omnibus approach to regulation, and Gaming Commission officials concurred. Casino operators seem to be warming to the idea, too.

Sen. Bruce Tarr is the most recent legislator to introduce iGaming legislation in Massachusetts. His S 200 moved to allow the state’s three land-based casino licensees to operate online gaming. The bill advanced the conversation along in 2017, but it was insufficiently short and ultimately stalled out.

Although Tarr’s bill carries over to 2018, the expectation is that lawmakers will craft new legislation in line with the committee’s recommendations. Despite the support from some key stakeholders, though, there is still significant opposition to overcome in the statehouse.

The Massachusetts General Court is back in session this week.

New Hampshire online gambling

New Hampshire has already dipped a toe into online gambling, but its plans for the future are unclear.

In January, Rep. Eric Schleien introduced H 562, simply titled “Allowing online gambling.” The bill was very short, and it didn’t attempt to establish the framework for iGaming. Instead, it simply moved to decriminalize the activity for residents, essentially opening the state up to national and international markets.

The bill initially stalled in committee, but it was brought back to life during an executive session in October. Although it advanced the conversation, the issue was deemed “inexpedient to legislate” and dismissed for the time being.

There is some speculation that iGaming legislation could be incorporated into the lottery program in 2018, though. Last year, the state became the fifth to roll out online lottery sales in a surprise move. The Lottery Commission is the favorite to oversee an iGaming market, and a lot will depend on the program’s stability and success in the new year.

Lawmakers are back in session as of this week, but there’s no immediate iGaming legislation to consider.

New York online poker

New York has been toying with online poker players’ emotions for a couple years.

Sen. John Bonacic and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow are the two key players in New York. Each of them chair the Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee in their respective chambers, and they’re the two trying to push legislation through.

In 2016, the Senate advanced Bonacic’s bill to legalize “certain interactive poker games.” S 5302 had passed through committee easily, and the Senate passed it by a count of 53-5. Pretlow had a matching bill on file in the House, but both of the bills stalled in his committee.

In 2017, Pretlow (A 5250) and Bonacic (S 3898) each reintroduced their legislation from the previous year. Pretlow indicated that his previous concerns had been addressed, and his bill passed through his committee for the first time. Bonacic’s bill cleared the full Senate once again before dying in the Assembly, again.

By that time, the legislative calendar had run out for 2017, and the issue was not considered again.

The bills have already resurfaced in 2018, though, as legislation carries over in New York. Bonacic’s attempt begins the new year back in Senate committee. Thereafter, the full Senate would have to pass it for a third time, as well. Should the bill make it back to the House, its fate will be in the hands of Pretlow and his committee once again.

New York lawmakers are back in session this week, and Pretlow indicated that he hopes to readdress the issue in February.

Rhode Island online gambling

Rhode Island has yet to consider iGaming legislation, but that may change this year.

In an interview with WRPI, Sen. William Conley was asked about his colleagues’ stance on online gaming. “I do think that the Senate president thinks that that’s something that we should look at seriously, and that it will bring in revenue,” Conley said.

The conversation was centered around sports betting, so Conley may have been conflating the two issues in his comment. Still, as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Conley will be a key figure in any potential movement.

Rhode Island has both a lottery and a land-based casino industry, each of which could likely support the framework for online play. Pressure from its neighbors, like Massachusetts and Connecticut, could help drive the conversation in the Ocean State, too.

Although there is no legislation on the books yet, Conley seemed to indicate that iGaming could be considered in 2018.

The Rhode Island General Assembly is back in session this week.

Michigan online gambling

Michigan is as prepared as any state to dig into online gambling. When lawmakers return to session on Jan. 10, they’ll likely be presented with at least one bill to establish online casinos in MI.

Rep. Brandt Iden is the one driving the conversation. Iden introduced H 4926 in September, aimed at widespread legalization. The bill advanced out of committee right at the tail end of the year, and the progress could foreshadow more movement in 2018.

Although it is at the front of the conversation, Michigan still has plenty of hurdles standing in the way of legalized iGaming. Of most concern is the fact that the state’s gaming tribes appear not to be on board. There are some questions about how the proposed law would interact with federal law, too.

Iden said he met with stakeholders prior to advancing the bill, though, which could indicate that more of them are warming to the idea. Commercial casinos have now said they support the legislation. But in order to craft a law that satisfies all parties, Iden and his colleagues still face challenges.

Bills carry over to even-numbered years in Michigan, so the process will pick up where it left off. H 4926 will begin the year in the “Second Hearing” phase, after which lawmakers will dig in on the details to see if they can get something through.

Iden is optimistic, but he understands that he needs more support:

If we’re unable to get the tribes and corporations together with framework agreeable to all, it won’t be able to get through the House. Getting through the committee is the easy part, but getting through the full House is different, and we’ll need support from all the casinos to do that.

Illinois online gambling

Online gambling legislation is tantalizingly close to the finish line in Illinois.

In 2017, Rep. Michael Zalewski introduced H 479, which ended up being a vehicle for iGaming legislation. The Senate loaded it up with both fantasy sports and online gaming language before passing it in May.

The amended bill returned to the House in June, but progress has so far stalled there. It was referred back to the Rules Committee, where it will begin the 2018 legislative year. If the committee advances the current version back onto the floor, it will require only a House vote to proceed to the governor’s desk.

Meanwhile, there are at least two Senate bills regarding iGaming that have made some progress, as well. H 479 is the furthest along, though, and represents the best chance for passage at the moment.

The political machinations in Illinois make it hard to forecast what will happen next, however. Zalewski has also indicated that an omnibus gaming package might be a possibility in order to get all stakeholders on the same page.

The Illinois General Assembly returns to session on Jan. 10.

- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.
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