A bill introduced by State Senator John Bonacic that seeks to legalize online poker in New York passed during an incredibly brief meeting of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee (which is chaired by Bonacic) on Tuesday morning. Bonacic’s bill will now head over to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.
The bill, S.5302-B, was unanimously passed (9-0) with two committee members voting “aye with reservations.”
Bonacic issued the following statement after the vote:
“S.5302-B took a necessary step forward today with its vote out of the Racing Committee. The Bill now goes to the Finance Committee and I anticipate having ongoing discussions with my colleagues in both Houses regarding this bill as session moves forward.”
Tuesday’s developments are certainly positive, but despite the historic vote (this was the first time any online poker bill has been voted in New York) S.5302-B has a long way to go before we can start taking online poker expansion in the Empire State seriously.
Still, none of the state’s previous efforts (see below) even made it to this point, which is why Tuesday’s committee vote was a not-trivial development for online poker supporters. In the wake of the vote, Poker Players Alliance executive director John Pappas released a statement that reads in part:
“The PPA thanks Chairman John Bonacic and the Committee for acting quickly to pass iPoker legislation through the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering… “We encourage the Finance Committee to move quickly to usher the legislation through the Senate, and also urge the Assembly to move forward with their respective legislation.”
“It would be a mistake for New York to wait for its brick-and-mortar casinos to go online. Moving Internet poker legislation now would establish an existing customer base of poker players for brick-and-mortar casinos when they open their doors for business.”
History of online poker in New York
New York first began exploring online poker legalization in 2013, when the legislature considered legalizing online gaming to help fund the state’s budget. Since then:
- In March of 2014, Senator Bonacic introduced S 6913.
- In May of 2014 Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow introduced a similar bill, A 09509.
- In 2015 Bonacic reintroduced his online poker bill, now designated as S 5302.
No votes were taken, and none of these bills gained much in the way of traction.
What happens next?
The fate of S.5302-B could hinge on what happens in nearby Pennsylvania.
If Pennsylvania passes an online gambling bill in the coming months, the New York legislature will likely continue to explore online poker legalization, and perhaps online casino legalization along with it.
It’s unlikely the bill would progress to the point where it might pass, especially with the state also considering daily fantasy sports bills — thanks to New York Attorney general Eric Schneiderman being embroiled in a legal battle with DraftKings and FanDuel — but I would expect several hearings and a lot of momentum heading into 2017 if New York decides to play a game of keeping up with the Joneses in Pennsylvania.
Why online poker and not online gaming?
Interestingly, Bonacic, along with all other New York iGaming expansion efforts, is only looking at the legalization of online poker.
This might be seen as a way to drum up more support as it’s the more conservative move and only incrementally increases gaming’s footprint in the state. But the revenue tradeoff by not including online casino games might make support harder to come by, especially among potential stakeholders who could see the initial licensing cost as a too steep barrier of entry.
I suspect that if an online poker bill does gain some traction it will be altered to include online casino games as well, both to gain the support of lawmakers looking at the issue in strict revenue terms, and from stakeholders who feel the poker-only approach will be unprofitable.