NY online poker will have to wait for standalone legislation later in 2018

Online Poker Shut Out Of New York Budget Again; Progress May Hinge On Sports Betting

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For the third straight year, New York lawmakers tried to include online gambling in their budget proposals. And for the third straight year, it’s not going to make the final budget.

The Empire State is one of several considering legal iGaming, including online poker sites and sports betting. Progress has come at a glacial pace by comparison to some of its neighbors, though. The state’s complicated regulatory landscape is partially to blame, but so is a lack of full support in the legislature.

With only partial backing, online gambling provisions have failed to make the final budget in each of the last two years. Standalone efforts have also stalled as stakeholders haven’t quite gotten onto the same page to date.

It’s more of the same this year; once again, online poker did not make it into the state budget.

iGaming removed from NY budget again

The state beat Sunday’s deadline to have a budget in place, quicker than the legislature usually acts for its spending for the year. Despite the fact that the Senate included online poker and sports betting in its version of the budget, the Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo apparently didn’t believe that it belonged there.

To be fair, passing regulations through the side door was always a longshot.

The hangup is primarily on the Assembly side, where key lawmaker Gary Pretlow remains a wildcard. Pretlow chairs the Committee on Racing and Wagering, which makes him a gatekeeper for related legislation. Although he has introduced some iGaming measures himself, it wasn’t until last session that one finally cleared his committee (corrected).

There is fair support in the Senate, though. That chamber has passed several standalone online gambling bills, including online poker for three years running. Neither the Assembly nor governor’s versions of the budget include these provisions, though, and controversial items are often scuttled along the way.

History wasn’t on New York’s side, either. Similar efforts having failed for two consecutive years, being pushed aside or turned into leverage for unrelated issues. There simply isn’t broad enough, uniform enough support for bringing the NY gambling industry online just yet.

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Progress may hinge on sports betting

The conversation has pivoted away from iGaming in recent months, anyhow. Sports betting has taken center stage, as states scramble to prepare for an upcoming US Supreme Court ruling. A ruling in the New Jersey sports betting case could open up sports gambling for NY and other states.

New York will likely be among the lead pack for regulation if federal prohibitions are relaxed. It already has a law on the books, though there’s more work to be done to make it palatable for stakeholders. A lack of progress on other forms of iGaming is cause for pessimism, but there seems to be a new urgency when it comes to this market.

That urgency is stifled by the agony of waiting for SCOTUS, though. Although a handful of states have passed laws to legalize sports betting, none of them will be activated until the ruling comes (and only if that ruling broadly favorable). A decision is expected sometime in the next couple months.

Given New York’s new focus on sports betting, that may need to be the first domino to fall.

Casinos need help

Mounting financial troubles may also provide an impetus, though. The state has long been operating under a budget deficit, but the land-based casinos are now struggling to stay afloat. All four of them have fallen short of expectations, and del Lago is already asking the state for a bail-out.

At this very moment, NJ online casinos are providing a case study for the benefits of iGaming. Atlantic City casino revenue is being bolstered by the presence of online casinos.

The widespread movement toward sports betting and the state’s land-based casino woes may finally be enough to push NY over the edge for iGaming — at some point, at least. But with the budgetary path roped off once again, it’ll be up to standalone legislation to carry the conversation to a conclusion.

- 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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