New York’s Online Poker Bill Falls Just Short of Finish Line for Second Straight Year

Just six weeks after the state senators in New York resoundingly voted to pass an online poker bill, the state’s Assembly has allowed it to die off without a vote.

Senate Bill 3898 was sponsored by state senator John Bonacic (R-42) in late January, and by February the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee voted 11-0 to move the online poker regulation measure forward. A voice vote by the full Senate took place on May 9, and once again S-3898 was ushered through the chamber without delay.

That sent it on to the full Assembly for study, but in a carbon copy of last year’s legislative wrangling, that body was unable to reach consensus before the session elapsed on June 21.

This marks the second consecutive year that the Assembly has failed to act on an online poker package passed overwhelmingly by the Senate. Bonacic saw his S-5302, which is nearly identical in construction and language to S-3898, passed by the full Senate in a 53-5 walkover last year, only to watch it languish in an inactive Assembly.

At that time, Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow – a veteran lawmaker who serves as chairman of the Committee on Racing and Wagering – provided the primary point of opposition. Pretlow expressed concerns over the ability of New York regulators to protect online poker players from cheating, as well as the potential for non-residents to access the state’s legal sites.

But this February, following a research mission to neighboring New Jersey to study the Garden State’s flourishing iGaming industry, Pretlow abruptly reversed course. Having determined that modern geolocation technology used in New Jersey is effective in blocking New Yorkers from playing, and instances of cheating are rare if not nonexistent, Pretlow offered his full support for online poker.

Political watchdogs and iGaming industry insiders widely expected Pretlow – a powerful figure in New York state politics for 25 years who heads the key Assembly committee on gambling issues – to provide the proverbial tipping point.

Pretlow himself said as much, telling local news outlet FiOS1news.com on February 25 that he saw few hurdles ahead after aligning with proponents of online poker:

“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 that there’s going to be much opposition to moving this along.”

After securing passage through his own committee on June 15, Pretlow sent S-3898 to the Assembly’s Committee on Ways and Means, but progress stalled amidst a tight deadline of less than one week.

Pretlow gave an interview to Online Poker Report on June 16 to discuss the S-3898, during which offered a telling take on S-3898’s chances of passing in 2017:

“I would say they’re slim, but not very slim. I believe they have some issues that may not be resolved by the middle of next week.

I’ve heard they have some constitutional issues and disagreements over the penalties. Some people say we don’t have strong enough penalties for bad actor, while some people say the penalties are too strong.”

The “bad actor” penalties that Pretlow alluded to refer to proposed fines that would be assessed to PokerStars parent company Amaya – resulting from the world’s largest online poker room continuing to serve American players after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 was passed.

The debate over bad actor penalties, or more specifically, the extent to which they should be imposed, has been cited as the key factor scuttling California’s decade-long online poker debate.

Two days later, Pretlow made the demise of S-3898 official while speaking to NY Daily News:

“There was some opposition; we’ll pick it up next year more than likely.”