NY legislature may decide to tackle two gaming expansions in tandem

NY Online Poker And Sports Betting: A Match Made In Heaven Or A Recipe For Disaster?

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Recent weeks have seen the confluence of two different possible gaming expansions in New Yorkonline poker and sports betting.

On the former, a bill started making its way through the machinations of the legislature yet again, after several years of falling short.

On the latter, a hearing was recently held about the prospects of legal sports gambling in the state.

Could the fates of the two eventually be intertwined? There was this from GamblingCompliance’s Chris Krafcik:

The case for joining NY online poker and sports betting

Why would this approach make sense? As Krafcik implies, the legislature is trying to work around having to amend the constitution to expand gambling in the state.

The constitution requires an amendment if the state wants to authorize more gaming. What does the state do if it wants to do so, but avoid the amendment process? It calls something a “game of skill” or “not gambling” in a bill.

That’s what it did with a 2016 daily fantasy sports law, with lawmakers insisting they could define anything they wanted outside of the scope of “gambling.” It’s also the rationale that is applied to the online poker bill.

And it might be the same way the state tries to expand sports wagering, although it already legalized it at the state’s commercial casinos via an earlier referendum.

If lawmakers are going to use the same rationale for both, it certainly makes sense to package them together. That’s especially so if the state is also going to legalize mobile sports wagering, not just land-based betting at tribal casinos, horse racing tracks and/or off-track betting facilities.

We’ve seen Pennsylvania successfully pass an omnibus gaming package in 2017. And the possibility exists in other states, like Rhode Island. Likewise, Illinois online casinos and poker are a frequently discussed possibility. Putting more than one gaming expansion in a bill can make it easier for different stakeholders to find compromise.

Still, there are problems with such an approach in New York.

The case against

There are reasons to be skeptical of putting everything in a single bill.

Legal issues?

First, there’s the potential legal issue of skirting a referendum. There is currently an active lawsuit in the state that is trying to block the DFS law on the basis that it should have been handled constitutionally.

If the DFS law fails to pass muster in the courts, any such rollout of online poker and sports betting would also fail the legality test. That would leave the state with a massive expansion of gaming that would have to be turned off, potentially, until a successful referendum. That’s a potential doomsday scenario. (The case is probably going to be tied up in the courts for years, assuming it continues.)

While the constitutional route would definitely be more legally sound, the state probably doesn’t want to waste time on sports betting. Neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania are already ready to offer mobile sports betting later this year, should the NJ sports betting case in the US Supreme Court result in the striking down of the federal ban on single-game wagering. Several New England states seem ready to join them, as well.

Online poker has been a sticky problem

While poker has easily cleared the Senate in each of the past two years, the same has not been the case in the Assembly. It has advanced out of the gaming committee in the lower chamber, but it has gone onto die a silent death with no votes in past legislative sessions.

The Assembly’s chairman of the gaming committee, Gary Pretlow, has offered myriad reasons why there have been problems. The latest, he said, was the resistance of female legislators to an iPoker expansion. Given the laundry list of issues Pretlow has come up with in the past, it’s difficult to parse how real this hurdle is in the Assembly.

Still, no matter what the cause, online poker has faced an uphill battle in the Assembly. Adding another variable to the mix could have the opposite of the intended effect of pairing poker with sports betting.

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Next steps for NY poker, sports betting

We’ve seen the Senate able to pass an online poker bill with little issue in the past. According to Pretlow in talking with Online Poker Report previously, there’s little reason to expect movement until June, when the legislature wraps up its session and passed the majority of its bills.

There’s also the lingering possibility that the Assembly and Senate put online poker or sports betting revenue — or both — in the state budget, although that might be a longshot. It did not appear in Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s proposed budget. Sports betting revenue is difficult to count on, since the Supreme Court case is still pending, despite the odds appearing to favor a New Jersey victory.

If plans are afoot to create a larger gaming package, we may see a new bill surface, however. Or perhaps the Senate and Assembly versions of existing poker or sports betting bills are amended to include the other.

Sports betting could pull along online poker legalization, but combining the two efforts is not without its perils.

- 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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