As March came to a close, there was a good deal of optimism about online gaming expansion in several key states.
- Momentum was building in New York after Senator John Bonacic’s online poker bill was included in the state budget;
- California was working towards solving the horse racing conundrum that has stymied progress; and
- Pennsylvania still looked like the nation’s best shot to pass a bill.
Fast forward to the first week in April and the online gaming community has once again found itself a victim of Lucy and her football deception.
- During a Skype conversation at iGNA 2016, New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow said poker was “1-in-100 or 1-in-1,000 to even reach the floor for a vote.”
- Following the charges by the AMF against Amaya CEO David Baazov, online poker expansion in California once again appears to be stalled.
- Pennsylvania’s well-received online poker bill, which has widespread support, seems to be bogged down by other gaming reforms that have been added to the bill.
False hopes in New York
I’ve always been led to believe that it was the city of Los Angeles that, with alarming speed, chews up and spits out all of the optimistic dreamers that head west with visions of becoming rich and famous. But apparently when it comes to online poker, that honor goes to New York, as within the span of a couple weeks the state managed to light a fire under online poker legalization advocates before Assemblyman Pretlow’s comments to the attendees of the iGNA 2016 conference doused the budding flame with a tidal wave.
Beyond his deflating 1-in-100 comment, Pretlow listed a couple of reasons the passage of an online poker bill was unlikely:
- There is no longer a consensus among the state’s stakeholders on the issue of online poker (a consensus he recently told Gambling Compliance existed).
- Constitutional questions have emerged from some unnamed corner regarding online poker, which have also slowed down the process.
Rigmarole in California
If there was any doubt that the insider trading charges levied against Amaya CEO David Baazov would undo most of the progress the state has made this year in regards to the issue of the horse racing industry, look no further than the comments made by one of PokerStars’ longstanding allies in the state, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
According to a source, the comments, first reported on by Dave Palermo, were made by San Manuel Chair Lynn Valbuena during a meeting between tribal leaders and California Assemblyman Adam Gray two weeks ago:
“San Manuel has deep concerns about these latest Amaya revelations,” Valbuena is quoted as saying, “Our council is looking into this and we will get back to all of you.”
In addition to the friendly fire from Valbuena, Palermo also spoke to racing lobbyist Robyn Black, who sees the charges as a significant setback. “We were making progress and the whole Amaya thing, with the CEO, kind of threw everybody back,” Black said.
Tribal lobbyist David Quintana went several steps further in his critique of the still-unfolding situation, telling Palermo that online poker was problematic before the charges, and even more so now, with Quintana saying that PokerStars is “even dirtier than we thought they were.”
Stalled efforts in Pennsylvania
After a flurry of activity and buzz in late 2015, and declarations that the measure would be seriously revisited in the Spring of 2016, Pennsylvania’s online gaming bill (which has morphed into a multifaceted gaming reform bill) continues to collect dust in the legislature.
The optimism that the bill would be used to close a deficit in the state’s pension program is fading, as is the possibility that the measure will be used in the state’s ongoing budget stalemate, that is growing increasingly concerning – the 2015/2016 budget has yet to be passed, and the 2016/2017 budget is supposed to be passed by July 1.
The issue stalling the passage of HB 649 (the state’s online gambling and gaming reform bill) in Pennsylvania doesn’t appear to be the central piece of online gambling, rather it’s several of the amendments that have found their way into its pages.
Included in the concerns that are creating a rift among the state’s brick and mortar casinos are the addition of VLT’s at airports and bars and bringing slot machines to select off-track betting parlors throughout the state. Also of concern, according to several people at iGNA 2016, is the potential plan introduced by Governor Tom Wolf to impose a tax on promotional play.
There is still a long way to go before the Pennsylvania bill can be declared a long shot, as the bill is essentially a finished product. But the looming legislative deadlines, and impending retirement of the Representative John Payne (the sponsor and driving force behind online gaming expansion in the Keystone State) at the end of the year, have become a major concern for online gaming advocates.