New York online poker heads into 2019 with an uncertain future

Online Poker Strikes Out Again In New York, And The Blame Continues To Shift

NY online poker strikes out

Online poker has been on New Yorks radar since 2014, but the Empire State has been unable to push a bill across the finish line. This year was no different.

During that time the Senate has passed online poker legislation on two occasions, in 2016 and again in 2017, by votes of 53-5 and 54-8 respectively.

The Senate has also included online poker it in its budget in each of the last three years, only to have it systematically stripped out each time.

Despite the appetite for it in the upper chamber, online poker has been persona non gratis in the Assembly. Not a single online poker bill has been brought up for a vote on the Assembly floor, where the climate for legalizing online poker seems to vary as much as the New England weather.

The Assembly has been all over the place when it comes to online poker. But that’s to be expected when the person shepherding online poker through the Assembly, Assemblymember Gary Pretlow, is bipolar on the issue.

Pretlow has been talking a good game about online poker for several years, but he’s been short on actual results.

One thing Pretlow, the chair of the Assembly Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, hasn’t been short on is excuses for the Assembly’s inaction.

A carousel of concerns, excuses, and blame

At times it feels like Pretlow fashions his answers ad hoc or even post hoc.

Pretlow’s support has wavered over the efficacy of geolocation technology, cheating and even whether or not online poker is a game of skill or gambling.

He’s cast blame at everyone from female lawmakers, to the governor, to the Speaker of the Assembly, to an absentee senator for online poker’s failure.

And as you’ll see in a moment, his own views on the matter can change at a moment’s notice.

Game of skill or gambling?

Pretlow supported the legalization of daily fantasy sports in 2016, but turned sour on online poker. Keep in mind that Pretlow has been the chief sponsor of online poker legislation in the Assembly every year.

The assemblyman told PokerNews.com his change of heart had to do with poker’s possible designation as a game of skill. According to Pretlow, he wasn’t sure poker was a game of skill like daily fantasy sports because you can change the size of the bet, whereas DFS has a fixed entry fee.

Sen. John Bonacic questioned that logic, telling PokerNews in a subsequent interview, “When I asked him if he was going to move the bill, he said he didn’t know … he never said to me what he told you.”

In 2018, Pretlow is singing a different tune about gambling and games of skill, and where poker fits in. In fact, he’s now accusing his colleagues of using the same logic he employed in 2016.

“For whatever reason, people consider online poker to be gambling but don’t consider sports betting to be gambling. I’m going to show them this is all gaming, and all forms of gaming happening are related,” Pretlow told Online Poker Report in May.

Collusion and geolocation technology

Just a few months after stating it was concerns about the skillfulness of poker that sunk the 2016 bill, Pretlow told me the reason he didn’t support the measure had to do with concerns about cheating, specifically collusion.

During our discussion, Pretlow claimed ignorance when it came to the systems in place at online poker sites to detect collusion. No one had explained or shown him how sites detected collusion. Industry sources later refuted that claim.

But once again his concerns simply evaporated. In January 2017 Pretlow told GamblingCompliance that he had visited with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement and no longer harbored concerns about collusion.

“They have people working together to make sure everything is monitored and recorded, which I wasn’t aware of,” Pretlow said. “Every single hand on every single game is there, and they can check and see how people are playing and they have systems in place to show how people are playing with each other.”

Another concern Pretlow had raised along the way was the ability of geolocation technology to pinpoint a player’s location.

On the geolocation front, Pretlow told FiOS1 in March 2017, “I took a field trip to New Jersey. We met with the attorney general down there. I went over their geolocating apparatus, and they proved to me that if someone was floating in their yacht on the Hudson River on the New Jersey side they could be playing poker; if they drift across to the New York side it would cut right out.”

It’s not me, it’s them

With all of his personal concerns addressed, Pretlow was bullish about passing an online poker bill in 2017, telling FiOS1 in the same interview that he would be dropping any lingering opposition, and that his endorsement would cause his Assembly colleagues to line up behind the bill.

“When I do sign off on something, my colleagues feel that it is a good deal, and they don’t question why I made a certain decision,” said Pretlow. “They know that if that decision was made, it was for good reasons.”

That didn’t happen in 2017 or in 2018. And pretty much anyone in his line of sight has been a target for blame.

The governor’s office is against it

In the same interview with FiOS1, Pretlow was already passing out blame cards. In the interview he mentioned that unnamed people in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration had concerns about online poker.

This year Pretlow name-checked the governor personally, when he explained why sports betting legislation didn’t pass. According to Pretlow, the governor’s silence contributed to sports betting’s inability to move this year.

“If the governor got involved, it probably would have passed but he was not engaged for whatever his reasons were,” Pretlow told Legal Sports Report. “When the governor was asked for a comment, his only response was we don’t have enough time to get it done this year. I disagreed. If he said there was not enough time, he wanted it to mellow a bit, I guess.”

Women are the problem

By January 2018 it wasn’t the governor that was the stumbling block that tripped up the 2017 online poker bill, it was female lawmakers.

“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.”

I meant it’s the speaker that’s holding it up

By the spring women morphed into Speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie.

“He’s not in favor of gambling,” Pretlow said of Heastie in an April interview with OPR. “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.”

No, it’s actually just the nature of NY politics

In June it was simply New York politics that were to blame.

“I had 30 Republicans but I couldn’t use them,” Pretlow told OPR this week. “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.”

Pretlow also intimated that a missing senator, meant the upper chamber was split evenly at 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats, which apparently precludes anything from getting done — even though the previous online poker bills passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.

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Combining sports betting and online poker is an option, until it isn’t

Pretlow has also had some evolving views on how online poker legislation might take shape, specifically, if it could be combined with sports betting.

In the April interview with OPR, Pretlow said combining the bills is a last resort, but because sports betting was the more popular initiative it could help drag online poker across the finish line.

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

In May, Pretlow was singing a different tune.

“I’m not going to attach online poker to it,” he said. “Every bill I do should stand on its own merit. I’m not trying to sneak something else in that people are opposed to.”

Taking all of that into consideration, I wonder what the problem will be in 2019?

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Steve Ruddock
- 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.