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Vanel, who chairs the Subcommittee on Internet and New Technology, which was added this year within the Assembly Committee on Economic Development, told Online Poker Report that he expects A 5250, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow‘s legislation to authorize online poker sites, to soon have around 60 to 70 co-sponsors. The bill currently sits at 13 co-sponsors.
“Chairman Pretlow is a great champion for it, and now he has the partners to bring it through,” Vanel said. “The next few weeks will show some traction for the bill. With enough co-sponsors, I like it to get out of committee and onto the floor. I think we have a good shot of getting it through this year.”
Vanel’s optimism stems from a failed effort to get online poker into the state’s budget. Vanel helped get more than 60 Democrats in the Assembly to sign a letter supporting the inclusion of online poker in the budget. Now he is seeking to transfer those signatures into co-sponsors for the bill.
“The budget effort didn’t work, but that happens with negotiations,” Vanel said. “What the exercise did is make us see that there’s more support for online poker than we previously thought.”
Last June – everything in the New York legislature happens in June – Pretlow advanced his online poker bill through the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee that he chairs, but couldn’t get momentum for it to go any further. A frustrated Pretlow indicated that he blew up at opponents of moving the online poker legislation.
Pretlow has said that he doesn’t need to pass A 5250 through his committee again due to the house’s new carry-over rules, but that it does need to get through the Codes, Ways and Means and Rules committees to reach the Assembly floor.
Vanel is a new Assemblyman, having taken office at the end of 2016. When he was tasked with leading the Subcommittee on Internet and New Technology, he identified online poker as a space the state should be regulating.
“I want New York to be in a position where we’re leading the country in internet and new technology,” Vanel said. “This is an area where we can improve. We have poker in New York but we’re not allowing it online. Folks can’t articulate why.”
The problem has been on the Assembly side. The Senate has passed a companion bill, introduced by Sen. John Bonacic, each of the past two years, and recently passed S 3898 through the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee.
“Our house has been the stopping point,” Vanel said. “If it gets through our house, it will have no problem getting through the Senate.”
Vanel believes that most lawmakers in the Assembly are either in favor of or neutral on online poker. He’s found that the ones opposed seem to have a general aversion to gambling.
He’s tried to address their concerns with common sense.
“When I explain to folks that gambling is legal in New York State, that we have casinos, racinos and a lottery, and people can now buy their lottery tickets online and bet on horses online, it’s hard for people to push back and say why we don’t have online poker,” Vanel said. “If we properly regulate it, that quells all the concerns opponent have against it. Some people, I’ve learned, are not going to change their minds, and I’d rather work on people who can get it.”
He’s heard the argument that lawmakers don’t want people being able to gamble in their pajamas from home. To that, he says, “If we regulate it, we can better control the good actors in our state and try to address the bad actors. If we don’t regulate it, we still cannot stop folks from participating online.”
He’s gotten pushback from people saying online poker will hurt existing casinos, and he’s pointed out that existing casinos will be the ones getting the licenses for online poker, and that ailing commercial casinos could use the new revenue stream.
“It’s good policy for New York State,” Vanel said. “Not only can we protect our consumers from the unscrupulous websites that will take your money offshore and provide no recourse, but we can help protect people with problems by having safeguards, and help our casinos that aren’t making enough.”
Even if A 5250 were able to get 76 co-sponsors (it takes 76 votes to pass a bill), it’s not expected to find its way to the Assembly floor until the final days of the legislative session in June. But if the bill has the growth in co-sponsors by then that Vanel predicts, there might finally be the momentum to force leadership to take up the issue.
“My job is that I’m the guy who is going to whip these votes,” Vanel said. “That’s what I’m doing. I’m working these votes to get the bill on the floor, and I will be whipping votes on the floor.”
He indicated that it would be helpful in his whipping efforts to have New Yorkers interested in having the option to play regulated online poker in the state contact their representatives in the Assembly.
“We need pressure from the outside, too,” Vanel said. “There has to be momentum and push on the inside and outside. We need to show that there’s voices out there other than people opposed to wagering, and they are respectable poker players who we are depriving opportunities.”