New York Online Poker Bill Falls Short In 2016; Well Positioned For 2017 Push

June 20, 2016
New York Online Poker Bill Falls Short In 2016; Well Positioned For 2017 Push

Daily fantasy sports received an eleventh hour reprieve in New York. The legislature passed a bill legalizing DFS and clarifying the laws governing the newly designated game of skill during a marathon session that wrapped up the 2016 legislative year.

At the same time that the high drama surrounding DFS was playing out, similar efforts to legalize online poker fell by the wayside.

So, while DFS supporters cheered in triumph, online poker supporters were left jilted once again. They were left pondering how DFS could be legalized the first year it was considered, yet online poker’s multi-year sojourn has resulted in nothing.

But it wasn’t all for naught in the Empire State. New York was always seen as a long shot to pass an online poker bill this year, and yet the state Senate became only the fifth legislative body to pass an online gambling bill, S5302, which it did by an overwhelming margin of 53-5.

With the late momentum online poker garnered in 2016, and with the ease of passage through the New York Senate, this issue should be broached once again next year. All it will need is one more affirmative vote to send it to Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s desk to be signed into law.

Recap of online poker progress in 2016

New York has seen several online poker legalization bills introduced over the past few years, and as noted above, 2016’s bills met with the same fate as their predecessors.

But then a funny thing happened; in early February the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee quietly passed Senator Bonacic’s online poker bill. Then, out of seeming nowhere, the Senate Finance Committee did the same in June, setting the bill up for its late-session floor vote.

Suddenly, online poker legalization not only seemed possible, but likely. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Online poker may have fallen short, but New York did demonstrate how swiftly a legislative body could move on such an issue. The New York Senate’s overwhelming vote in favor of online poker legalization also proved how noncontroversial the issue has become.

Will DFS legalization spur on poker?

One benefit of DFS gaining legal status in New York — with companies capable of operating independently of the state’s racinos and casinos — is it opens up competition in a new space: online.

DFS (whether you want to call it gambling or not) takes place online. If casinos and racinos want to compete in the online space, where the coveted millennial segment spends most of its gaming/gambling dollars, they will need their own product. That product is online poker and potentially online casino games. The legalization of the latter is a heavier lift for the legislature, which is why New York is taking the poker-only approach.

As supportive as the casino industry was of online poker this year, I anticipate an even greater call to action in 2017. And since the legislature has already solved the daily fantasy sports issue, lawmakers can devote their time and effort exclusively to online poker.

With the legalization of DFS (assuming Cuomo signs the bill), it becomes more likely online poker will follow in its wake in 2017.

Who will lead the charge in 2017?

The pieces are still pretty much in place for online poker to be considered next year, as both legislators leading the charge on this issue are expected to win their reelection bids.

Senator John Bonacic has represented the 42nd District since 1999, and is seeking his tenth two-year term this year. Bonacic has been beating the online poker drum for several years, and with his bill’s ease of passage in the Senate, there is little doubt he will push for online poker legalization once again.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow has been in office even longer, having represented the 89th District since 1993. Pretlow, the lower chamber’s online poker “champion,” is a bit more pragmatic. Pretlow’s pessimistic appraisal of his own bill (a mirror of the bill that sailed through the Senate with ease) and his unwillingness to push for a vote flummoxed online poker supporters.

One analyst who follows DFS and online gaming said of Pretlow’s unwillingness to beat the drum for online poker expansion: “It makes no sense.”

That being said, another year of waffling and inaction by the Assembly will have poker advocates crying foul. If Bonacic and the Senate send another bill over to the Assembly with near-unanimous support, it seems like the Assembly will have to act.

Everything should be in place for online poker to advance even further in 2017. This will likely require another grass-roots effort by players, on top of the pressure from the gaming industry, to force lawmakers to act.

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