November Midterm Elections Could Impact The Future Of US Online Poker

October 8, 2018
November Midterm Elections Could Impact The Future Of US Online Poker

November’s midterm elections could mean a step forward for online poker legislation in several different states. But it could also mean a step back in others.

There’s even one state holding a referendum in November on whether referendums should be used to decide on any future gambling expansion there.

The hope that online poker legislation can somehow ride sports betting’s coattails to passing in several states has yet to pan out. However, it’s not dead yet. In fact, once the dust settles in November, it could be revived in any number of states.

However, a look at the states where the November 2018 midterm elections could have a real impact on the future of online poker in the US begins with a place online poker advocates thought they’d won five years ago.

Trouble in Nevada

Nevada launched legal and regulated online poker in 2013 under current Republican Governor and online gambling proponent Brian Sandoval.

The issue this November is that term limits prevent Gov. Sandoval from running for re-election. Current Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has taken a stance against online gambling a number of times. In June, he won the Republican Party primary and will be running for Governor in Sandoval’s place.

Laxalt has spoken out publicly against the state’s online poker legislation. He added his name to a list of state attorney generals who support the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, a bill that would kill online poker across the US. Plus, he signed a letter to the Trump Administration asking the Department of Justice to reverse its 2011 legal opinion that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting. Yet another move that would effectively end online gambling and any state’s right to legalize and regulate it.

Anti-online gambling zealot and Las Vegas Sands Corporation founder, chairman and chief executive officer Sheldon Adelson is Laxalt’s largest political donor. In fact, State Treasurer Dan Schwartz, who ran against Laxalt in the primary, suggested Laxalt is in Adelson’s pocket.

Add it up and if Laxalt wins the race for Governor this November, the days of legal and regulated online poker in Nevada could be numbered.

California dreaming

The outlook is a little rosier in California, although online poker advocates should not get their hopes up.

The state came the closest it has ever been to legalizing and regulating online poker in 2016. However, it stumbled over the issue of who is suitable to be an online poker operator in the state.

Lawmakers and stakeholders spent two years arguing whether commercial cardrooms, Native American casinos, horse racing facilities, or sites, like PokerStars, that accepted US customers after federal laws were put in place to try to stop it, should be allowed to become online poker operators in the Golden State.

They failed to reach an agreement and the issue remains unsolved. In 2018, online poker legislation sits on a shelf in a rarely used room in the basement of the legislature.

The same players return

Earlier in the year, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer said he could see online poker being attached to sports betting legislation and both passing in 2019.

Jones-Sawyer has been an Assemblyman since 2012 and has run unopposed in the past two California State Assembly District 59 general elections. In June, Jones-Sawyer and fellow Democrat Leslie Hagan-Morgan ran unopposed in the California State Assembly District 59 top-two primary election.

Reggie Jones-Sawyer won 76.8 percent of the vote and will run unopposed in November. It looks like he’s headed back to Sacramento and that means he’ll be free to pursue the idea of attaching online poker to sports betting legislation in the new year.

Assemblyman Adam Gray has long been the man behind online poker legislation in California. Now he’s the one backing the push for legal sports betting as well.

Gray has also been an Assemblyman since 2012 and the only one standing between him and another election victory in November is Libertarian candidate Justin Quigley. However, all signs point to a cakewalk for Gray as he won the top-two primary in June earning 99.89 of the vote.

It appears the same politicians pushing for online poker in California will be back in Sacramento after the November election. The only problem seems to be the same issues that have derailed online poker legislation previously will still be there as well.

New leadership

It’s worth noting that Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is ineligible to run for re-election due to term limits.

Democrat Gavin Newsom, the former Mayor of San Francisco and current Lieutenant Governor, is running for the job against Republican John H. Cox. Cox is a former lawyer, investment counselor, real estate manager, and conservative radio talk show host. He ran for office in Illinois unsuccessfully three times, and briefly sought the republican nomination for president in 2008, before moving to California.

Neither candidate has said much regarding online poker and it doesn’t appear to be a campaign issue.

Michigan: A glass half full or half empty

California lawmakers have spent the past decade tossing around the idea of online poker legislation. Michigan lawmakers just started.

The state’s first online gambling bill was introduced by State Senator Mike Kowall back in April 2016. His efforts morphed into a revised bill backed by the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee in June of that year, but it saw little to no action after that.

Michigan lawmakers appeared to return to the topic in November 2016, but those efforts stalled and both the legislative session and the year ended without further movement.

In 2017, Rep. Brandt Iden made plans to get an online gambling bill through the House before the holidays but was unable to do so.

The bill carried over to the 2018 session and it passed through the House in June 2018. This legislation will allow the state’s casinos to offer internet gambling, including online poker and sports betting. However, it needs to get through the Senate, and presumably have the state’s Native American tribes and commercial casino operators agree on how it’ll work first.

Sen. Kowall has been spearheading the Michigan effort to legalize online gambling on the Senate side for the past couple of years. However, Kowall is unable to run for re-election in 2018 because of term limits.

Michigan Senate up for grabs

All 38 seats in the Michigan State Senate are up for election in 2018. It remains unclear, without Kowall, who will champion the cause of online gambling in the Senate going forward.

The Republican party has dominated the Michigan Senate for several terms. However, 19 of the 27 Republican State Senators cannot run for re-election due to term limits this year, meaning things could change dramatically in November.

More than a dozen Michigan Senate races have been deemed battleground races by the election website Ballotpedia, meaning there are some hotly contested battles shaping up.

The future of the state’s online gambling legislation is unclear with the Senate guaranteed to have a lot of new faces no matter what happens.

No guarantees

Plus, Iden no shoe-in to return to Lansing. If online gambling legislation must start over in the House, it might have to do so without its original backer.

Iden has defeated Democrat John Fisher by only the slimmest of margins in the past two elections. This November, he’ll be running against Democrat newcomer Alberta Griffin.

Should a blue wave suddenly sweep Michigan in November, the future of anything the Republican-held Senate and House had its fingerprints on could be in jeopardy.

New York: Halfway to nowhere

In New York, online poker legislation passed through the Senate in 2016 and 2017. Then the Assembly basically ignored it.

There were high hopes for it in 2018, attached to the idea the bill didn’t have to start over from the beginning. However, New York lawmakers got bogged down with the issue of legal sports betting and found a way to avoid dealing with online poker at all.

Now, online poker advocates in the Empire State are playing the waiting game again. They can only hope things will change in 2019.

Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow chairs the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee. He claims he was only eight Democrats short of getting the online poker bill put to a vote this year. Then, the state’s legislative session ended.

Pretlow will bring a bag full of similar stories back to Albany this year. Plus, the string of broken promises he’s made to online poker advocates. He is running unopposed for his Assembly seat.

In the meantime, online poker will need a new champion in the New York Senate.

Bye, bye Bonacic

Sen. John Bonacic was first elected to the Senate in 1998. He’s now 75 and retiring.

He’s backed a number of important New York gambling-related issues in his 20 years on the Senate. He pushed for a constitutional amendment to legalize commercial casinos. He’s been behind online poker on the Senate side. Plus, he’s worked for fantasy sports and sports betting bills as well.

New York couldn’t pass online poker with him, and it’ll have an even tougher time without him.

Meanwhile, all 150 seats in the New York State Assembly are up for election. Although, Democrats will likely keep control.

All 63 seats in the New York State Senate are also up for election. However, Ballotpedia has identified the NY Senate as a battleground chamber. In 2016, Republicans and Democrats split the chamber. The same could happen again this November.

Florida leaves it to voters

It’ll be up to voters in Florida this November to decide who should make all the decisions. At least when it comes to any kind of gambling expansion in the state, online or off.

November ballots include a proposal to amend the state constitution ensuring all future Florida gambling expansion initiatives are decided by voter referendum. If passed, it would mean the Florida legislature would no longer have the ability to pass gambling expansion legislation on its own.

In fact, if it passes, the only way Florida will see gambling expansion is through citizen-initiated ballot measures.

The issue has surrounded brick and mortar casino expansion. In fact, Florida lawmakers yet to even consider the idea of online gambling. However, the decision by voters will clearly have an impact on how it deals with online gambling going forward.

Existing Native American casino operators trying to protect their interests backed the initiative. Walt Disney Company joined them in an effort to keep Florida family friendly.

Should it pass, from a Florida gambling expansion perspective, it will no longer matter who is in office going forward. It’ll be up to voters instead.

A new Florida Governor

In the meantime, Florida Governor Rick Scott is moving on and running for a US Senate seat. That leaves Democrat Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum to take on former Republican US Rep. Ron DeSantis in the battle to become Florida’s next governor.

DeSantis believes gambling should not be in the state’s constitution and he does not advocate gambling expansion. Anti-online gambling zealot and Las Vegas Sands boss Sheldon Adelson has reportedly funneled $500,000 in committee money to DeSantis’ campaign.

Gillum has simply said he’s in favor of the voters having a say on big issues like this one. No matter what happens, online gambling looks like a rock Florida is happy to keep kicking down the road.

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