It’s déjà vu all over again in New York, where the state’s Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering voted 10-1 in favor of a bill legalizing and regulating online poker.
Senate Bill 3898 was forwarded on January 23 to the Senate Finance Committee for further review, where it’s expected to receive similar levels of support.
Last year, an identical bill was passed unanimously by Racing, Gaming, and Wagering, before a 28-9 vote moved it to the full Senate. The 2017 version of SB-3898 passed through the Senate by a 53-9 margin, marking the second consecutive year that online poker was authorized by one half of New York’s legislature.
But despite widespread support from the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill stalled out in the Democrat-dominated Assembly without ever receiving a vote.
State senator John Bonacic (R-42), the chief sponsor of SB-3898, spoke to his colleagues ahead of the committee vote to reiterate his justifications for legalizing online poker:
“There are many media reports that the [commercial] casinos aren’t meeting their revenue expectations.
This would be another tool in their toolbox to enhance revenues, if we allowed them to do it. This will be the third time that the Senate has passed this bill, and I know Assemblyman [Gary] Pretlow, who chairs the Racing and Wagering [Committee] in the Assembly, is supportive of the bill.
I know he will continue to use his best efforts to move it in the Assembly.”
For his part, assemblyman Pretlow (D-89) has promised to use his powerful position as chair of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee to champion SB-3898.
Even so, Pretlow has previously expressed personal reservations on the integrity of online gambling, going so far as to visit neighboring New Jersey to “study” the Garden State’s thriving iGaming industry in 2016. His hesitance to embrace the issue was widely cited as a factor in the first bill’s demise, but Pretlow reversed course last year after his fact-finding mission confirmed iGaming to be safe and secure.
In a recent interview with Online Poker Report, Pretlow laid the blame for last year’s inaction on women in the Assembly who he believes oppose gambling expansion in any form:
“It seems women are opposed to gambling or gaming, and it got a little heated.
There’s opposition to the legislation by a lot of female members of the Assembly, and the Speaker decided we should wait to get it straightened out. But now I know which ones to deal with and that’s what I’m going to do.
I’m going to redouble my efforts, as the expression goes.”
Assuming the Senate passes SB-3898 for the third time in as many years, Pretlow and his colleagues in the Assembly would reexamine A-5250, a version which essentially mimics Bonacic’s bill.
As he told Online Poker Report, Pretlow foresees several months of inaction while legislators address more pressing matters, including the state budget:
“It will probably end up being a June push again, unless there’s reasons for otherwise.
Right now we’re going into budget mode, and all February we’re lost in the budget. Then the middle of March we’ll be fighting over things, and on April 1 the budget is passed.
Then April, May and June is when all the work gets done.”
Pretlow also pointed out that New York has become increasingly isolated from a regional iGaming industry. Along with New Jersey, which recorded $245 million in iGaming revenue last year alone, Delaware also operates regulated online gambling. And following the passage of comprehensive gambling expansion last year, Pennsylvania is preparing to become the fourth state to establish an iGaming industry later this year.
As Pretlow frames the debate, New York can’t afford to fall further behind its regional neighbors:
“We’re surrounded by online gaming. I guess eventually we will come around.
It’s just like with marijuana. Many states are legalizing marijuana, and two years ago the governor was totally opposed.
But since we’re surrounded by Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey heading toward legalization and probably Pennsylvania, he’s going to rethink that. Times and situations do change.”