New York Senate Committee Advances Online Poker Bill to Full Senate Vote

New York has renewed its ongoing debate over online poker regulation after a May 9 voice vote by the Senate Finance Committee moved the state’s most recent proposal up the legislative ladder.

Sponsored by state senator John Bonacic (R-42), Senate Bill 3898 would create the regulatory framework required to offer legal online poker in New York. An almost identical bill introduced by Bonacic last year, S-5302, was passed by a 53-5 margin in June of last year, only to die in the state’s Assembly.

Following the most recent committee vote, which was the second such success for S-3898, Bonacic’s latest effort to legalize online poker in the Empire State returns to the full Senate for further consideration. Given the overwhelming support offered by the Senate last year, that legislative body’s passage of S-3898 is widely expected to be a foregone conclusion.

If and when that passage occurs, the online poker debate would be taken up by the Assembly. But despite optimistic comments offered recently by Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (D-89) – who serves as chairman of the Assembly Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee – a repeat of 2016’s stalling may be in the cards.

On February 25, a local media outlet posted a two-part interview with Pretlow, who expounded on his renewed support for online poker. Pretlow had previously voiced concerns about potential cheating, and the ability of geolocation to effectively bar players attempting to access New York’s iGaming platforms from out of state.

In the interview with Andrew Whitman of news station FiOS-1, Pretlow recounted a trip to New Jersey to study that state’s iGaming industry as the impetus for his newfound support. Pretlow also predicted widespread support for online poker passage within the Assembly, based largely on his own political clout:

“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. They know that if that decision was made, it’s for good reason.

So I don’t really see there’s going to be much opposition to moving this along.”

Pretlow also observed that the 2016 delay was partially motivated by concern for protecting the state’s four newly built land-based casinos – three of which have since opened to the public – while stating that New York’s brick and mortar gambling industry was on-board with online poker:

“I didn’t want to put competition in there before they even opened their doors.

All four casinos have said they don’t have a problem with the state offering online poker-and the seven racinos are also eligible to be in partnership with organizations that handle online poker.”

Despite these earlier statements, however, Pretlow appears to be backtracking in terms of Assembly support.

In a series of tweets posted on May 9 by Whitman, who once again spoke with Pretlow just after the Senate Finance Committee’s vote, the FiOS-1 reporter revealed several newly raised concerns.

According to Whitman, Pretlow and his colleagues in the Assembly find themselves questioning the rapid pace of gambling expansion in the state, given the aforementioned land-based casino openings, and the passage of DFS regulations in August of last year. Whitman quotes Pretlow as asking, “are we making it too easy to gamble,” among other newly raised issues such as the current lack of tribal gaming involvement.

Pretlow told Whitman that he plans to meet with fellow Assembly members at some point soon to discuss these issues, while pointing out that time is of the essence.

The current legislative session concludes on June 22, giving lawmakers in New York just over a month’s time to approve online poker – or force another delay into 2018.