Online Poker Bill in New York Passes Committee Vote; Sponsor Hits Airwaves

During a perfunctory hearing held on Thursday, June 2, members of the New York Senate Finance Committee quickly voted to move Senate Bill S5302 through to the next phase of the legislative process.

The bill, which was first put forth by chief sponsor John J. Bonacic in May of 2015, calls for the creation of a legalized and regulated online poker industry within New York State. As part of Thursday’s basic up and down vote, which involved no formal debate and only a brief comment session, 20 legislators voted aye against eight votes against.

Of the 20 votes in favor of the iPoker bill, however, eight were officially cast “with reservations,” signaling that many lawmakers in the state are still on the proverbial fence when it comes to this contentious issue.

One member of the Senate Finance Committee who openly expressed hesitation as to the prospects of reviving online poker in New York was Senator Liz Krueger. Before voting against Senate Bill S5302, Krueger commented to her colleagues on the industry’s “broad ramifications” for the state, while also calling for public hearings to allow community members to make their voices heard.

Industry insiders and political watchdogs in New York have tempered their optimism, even in the wake of Thursday’s successful committee vote. Despite the bill having passed two committee votes thus far – following a 9-0 approval by the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee in February – the legislature has not held any full hearings to properly discuss and analyze the legislative language.

The widespread consensus to this point is that Thursday’s committee vote was simply a holding pattern of sorts, meant to keep Senate Bill S5302 on the table until a broader push towards iPoker legalization can be made in 2017.

Senator Bonacic, for his part, appeared on Time Warner Cable News on Monday, June 6 to discuss the future of his bill.

Among the arguments Senator Bonacic delivered while advocating for Senate Bill S5302 were the oft cited issue of consumer protection. As has been widely documented, players seeking to gamble real money on poker via the internet already have access to unregulated sites operating from offshore.

As stated by Senator Bonacic, with millions of dollars being funneled from New York gamblers to these other online poker platforms, “why not regulate it?” in a dual effort to safeguard consumers while also generating income for the state’s coffers.

Another point of encouragement put forth by Senator Bonacic during the interview concerns New York’s loosely affiliated network of brick and mortar casinos and racetrack-based “racinos.” According to Senator Bonacic, “all of the gaming interests want” online poker, a fact confirmed by letters sent to the Senate on behalf of the state’s nine major racino operations which call for passage of Senate Bill S5302.

Currently, no date has been scheduled for a full Senate hearing on New York’s iPoker bill. Considering the most recent committee vote, however, along with Senator Bonacic’s renewed calls for public support, momentum may be building toward a vote being held sooner than previously expected.