Despite lack of progress in 2018, NY online poker could be on agenda for 2019

NY Lawmaker: Online Poker Was Just Eight Votes Away From Passing

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New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow says he was eight Democrats away from getting the online poker bill put to a vote last week at the end of the state’s legislative session.

While admitting that “we didn’t really look at it” in the final weeks as online poker took a back seat to a more urgent sports betting bill that also didn’t pass, Pretlow attested that he had a commitment from 68 Democrats that they would support A 5250. Officially, the bill finished with 51 Assembly members signed on as supporters, including 47 Democrats and four Republicans.

The magic number is 76 Democrats

Another assertion from Pretlow, who chairs the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee, is that A 5250 had the votes to easily pass due to bipartisan support if it were put on the floor, but that support from the minority party is of no help to get a bill up for vote.

The New York Assembly has 150 seats, meaning 76 is equal to a majority. The Speaker of the Assembly is its highest ranking official, elected from the ranks of the majority party. The position is currently held by Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), the first African-American to serve in the Assembly’s top spot.

Heastie holds the power to decide which bills reach the floor for a vote, and Pretlow contends that he is obligated to push forward a bill with 76 supporters but they need to all be from the majority party. Republicans don’t count.

“I had 30 Republicans but I couldn’t use them,” Pretlow said. “You can’t get 50 Democrats and 30 Republicans. That’s not how it works in New York. You need 76 Democrats to pass something. If the bill came to the floor, it would have passed with at least 90 votes.”

New York politics is known to be a little screwy, as evidenced each year when 90+ percent of bills that pass do so in the final week of the session.

No movement on Senate side

Pretlow has continuously had difficulty getting the online poker bill through the Assembly, so another failure wasn’t a surprise. However, a Senate that easily passed online poker bills the past two years didn’t attempt to do so this year.

Perhaps that can be written off as the Senate not bothering to push forward a bill that didn’t have a chance in the Assembly, but that didn’t stop the Senate from passing online poker bills early the past two years in an attempt to motivate the lower chamber.

Pretlow pointed out that the Senate was stuck in a political gridlock. Due to a missing senator, the 63-member Senate was split evenly at 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats, meaning nothing could get done.

“Really nothing was able to happen of any importance other than trading off one local legislation,” Pretlow said.

Outlook for 2019

So while online poker seemed further away from consideration in New York this year than in the previous two years, Pretlow indicated that it is closer than ever to passing. With help from Assemblyman Clyde Vanel, the bill had more support than ever before.

There will be the complication of Sen. John Bonacic’s retirement, but the Senate previously passed online poker bills by such lopsided margins that it’s unlikely his departure can make that big of a difference. The Assembly has been the problem, and Pretlow sees a path forward.

“If I can get four members to come on board, bringing it up to 72, I can probably sway four more,” Pretlow said.

The upcoming election may shake up those figures, but there’s a task for poker enthusiasts in New York over the next year. Convince four Assembly members not currently in support of online poker to embrace the idea of regulating the activity, and put Pretlow to the test.

- Matthew began writing about legislative efforts to regulate online poker in 2007 after UIGEA interfered with his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker while working as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News. Covering the topic for Bluff Magazine, PokerNews and now Online Poker Report, he has interviewed four U.S. Congressmen and 40+ state legislators. His poker writing has been cited by The Atlantic, and Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men's Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and
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