NY online poker has a month to become law in 2018

NY Assembly Has Mixed Emotions When It Comes To Online Poker

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Online poker in New York is turning into the legislative version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary masterpiece, the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

After a couple of close calls in each of the last two years, Albany lawmakers don’t seem to know if they’re coming or going in 2018. And depending on who you ask, online poker efforts have either taken a step forward or a step backward in 2018.

The young optimist…

On the one hand you have first-term Assemblyman Clyde Vanel, who appears to be spearheading the current online poker effort in the Assembly.

“The budget effort didn’t work, but that happens with negotiations,” Vanel told Online Poker Report in April. “What the exercise did is make us see that there’s more support for online poker than we previously thought.”

Vanel has been ginning up support for a pro-online poker letter, but fell short of the 60-70 he was shooting for. The letter, sent from the office of Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, the sponsor of the online poker bill, was sent to Speaker Carl Heastie with 52 names.

… vs. the wizened pessimist

On the other hand is the enigmatic Pretlow.

Pretlow has sponsored online poker bills introduced in the Assembly, but his support waxes and wanes, with the longtime Assemblyman sometimes questioning his own legislation.

In a recent sit-down interview with Andrew Whitman of FiOS1, Pretlow spoke positively about sports betting, but turned sour at the tail end of the interview when the subject of online poker was broached.

In the interview, Pretlow termed online poker a work in progress that would eventually get done.

“My conference has issues with online poker. They think it is gambling. I’m trying to convince them that it is a game of skill, it is not gambling. That argument can go on for a long time. I think at some point we’re going to get it done, though.”

Whitman also asked Pretlow if the momentum on the sports betting front would move the needle for online poker. Pretlow’s single-word response to the question was, “no.”

Pretlow previously said merging the two issues was on the table in an April interview with OPR:

“Combining the bills is a last resort. I don’t want to combine them, but if I have to then I will. The sports betting bill has a better chance to pass, and maybe it can carry online poker with it.”

Who’s to blame for online poker’s struggles in NY?

Online poker bills passed the Senate with relative ease in 2016 and 2017 before ultimately dying in the Assembly without so much as a vote. Most of the blame has fallen at the feet of Pretlow, the chairman of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee.

For his part, Pretlow continues to point the finger elsewhere, blaming everyone from Heastie to female counterparts.

“He’s not in favor of gambling,” Pretlow said of Heastie in the April interview. “It’s obvious there are a lot of people in the Assembly not in favor of gambling of any sort. I try to explain to them that this is an expansion of existing gambling, but it’s hard to do when minds are closed.”

“It seems women are opposed to gambling or gaming, and it got a little heated,” Pretlow told OPR in January. “There’s opposition to the legislation by a lot of female members of the Assembly, and the Speaker decided we should wait to get it straightened out. But now I know which ones to deal with and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to redouble my efforts, as the expression goes.”

What’s undeniable is Pretlow’s personal support of legalizing and regulating online poker in the Empire State is in a constant state of flux.

Sometimes he’s a strong supporter of online poker and bullish on its chances, and at other times his support is fleeting and he turns bearish on online poker’s chances. Where on the spectrum of support will we land in 2018? The legislature adjourns June 20, so we have a month to find out.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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