Online Poker Bill Reintroduced in New York Assembly

Updated: February 12th, 2019 by Haley Hintze

Amid the larger and troubling clouds of the latest federal reinterpretation of the US’s 60-year-old Wire Act and its potential present-day impact on most forms of online gambling, New York’s State Assembly will again consider an online-poker legalization bill for the seventh consecutive year. The latest in a long line of such measures offered for consideration is NY State Rep. J. Gary Pretlow’s Assembly Bill 4924 (A04924), introduced by Pretlow on February 5.

If Pretlow’s name sounds very familiar, that’s because he’s among those who’ve introduced online-poker bills in New York in the past. Pretlow’s A04924 bill, in fact, offers identical body text to the previous placeholder measure he offered on the topic in 2017, for the state’s 2017-18 legislative session. That bill never went anywhere, in large part due to Pretlow’s own willingness to trade off possible consideration of an online-poker bill for other forms of gambling expansion in New York.

Since Rep. Pretlow is the powerful chairman of the NY Assembly’s Committee on Racing and Wagering, he’s one of the few people in the state who directly controls whether such a bill clears his committee… or even receives a vote. In past years, Pretlow has denied such a vote despite paying lip service to the notion that he’s a strong online-poker supporter; instead, he’s quickly shelved his own bills to help promote sports betting, daily fantasy sports, and land-based casino interests.

Pretlow’s concept for an online-poker legalization bill also differs somewhat from a rival measure that passed the NY Senate last year. The previous NY Senate bills on the topic were sponsored by the now-retired State Senator John Bonacic, though the same legislation as Bonacic’s has also been reintroduced this year, as Senate Bill 18 (S0018), by Joseph Addabbo.

One key difference between the two bills is that the Bonacic /Addabbo bills have contained a “bad actor” provision designed to bar global online-poker market leader PokerStars from participating in any regulated market, based on its previous acceptance of US-based players prior to April 2011’s “Black Friday”. Despite having long settled that matter with the US Department of Justice, and being approved to offer its services in New Jersey and (soon) Pennsylvania, PokerStars has encountered significant headwinds in several other states, especially those with tribal-gaming enterprises that would prefer not to compete against Stars’ brand-name recognition. New York is one such state where tribal gaming dominates the scene.

Pretlow’s A04924, however, lacks such bad-actor language, though that doesn’t make it any more likely to pass. Instead, both his Assembly bill and Addabbo’s Senate counterpart face even more uncertain ground than in prior years. Besides the Wire Act mess — and see our next feature for more on that — there’s also a newly introduced measure that calls for a broad, statewide research project to study gambling behavior across several forms, including online.

That measure, introduced by NY State Rep. Linda Rosenthal, would task the New York Gaming Commission to undertake a “statewide evaluation regarding the extent of gambling by New York state residents, including, but not limited to the lottery, horse racing, Native American casinos, internet gambling, sports betting, and poker.” Here’s the kicker: “Such evaluation shall be delivered to the governor and legislature no later than December first, two thousand twenty-three,” meaning that such a research project would likely be served up by gambling’s foes as a reason not to expand into online gambling in New York, in any form. That research already exists showing online poker to be less addictive than most other gambling forms wouldn’t matter to its opponents, and as we all know, politicians love voting for studies as a way to kick controversial topics down the road.

The good news is that Rosenthal’s measure doesn’t yet show signs of garnering significant support. And, of course, the other news is that these latest online-poker legalization efforts are again under consideration. Whether 2019 turns out to be that year isn’t a strong bet, but at least the topic is out there, again.

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