New York Poker Bills Now in Both Chambers

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New York Poker Bills Now in Both Chambers

Fans of online poker had hoped that 2016 would be the year when a fourth state finally legalized and regulated the popular gambling game. Despite initial optimism, however, the year finished without any success, but now it seems very possible that New York may be positioned to become the next state to join the ranks of Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, after all.

2016 Bill Died in Assembly

In 2016, a bill that would have paved the way for online poker legalization did manage to pass a vote in the New York State Senate; however, the bill died when it reached the General Assembly. The reason for the failure rests on one person primarily, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow (photo). Although he initially co-sponsored the legislation, Pretlow did not push for the bill to be brought to a vote. In fact, he actually stated that he had doubts about the game’s status as a game of skill, essentially killing off the bill. As the Assemblyman commented at the time:

“In poker, you’re betting and you’re changing the bet by raising. That’s gambling. In my legislative finding, I found DFS is not gambling. I can’t find that poker is not gambling.”

Pretlow Changes iPoker Stance

Now that the New York State Senate and General Assembly are back in session for 2017, it seems that Pretlow has had a change of heart. In early February, Assemblyman Pretlow submitted Bill A 5250 to the General Assembly as a first step toward online poker legislation. In the New York Senate, Senator John Bonacic, who was the driving force behind and author of the 2016 bill, proposed his own legislation S 3898 in order to accomplish the same goal.

Senator Bonacic and Assemblyman Pretlow’s bills are virtually identical. Both of the bills seek to redefine and reclassify poker. Currently, poker is identified under New York State law as a game of chance. As a result, efforts to legalize online poker have been stymied as New York lawmakers are generally opposed to expanding gambling in the Empire State. Classifying poker as a game of skill, on the other hand, would solve this problem as doing so would allow online poker to be legalized and regulated, unlike online casinos which the state vehemently opposes.

Framework of Bills

In addition to defining poker as a game of skill, the bills introduced by Senator Bonacic and Assemblyman Pretlow lay the framework for regulating online poker. The bills both call for internet gambling operators to obtain licenses from New York to provide online poker services in the state, at a cost of $10 million per license. Those firms who then receive a license will subsequently be required to pay taxes on gross gaming revenues at a rate of 15 percent of annual gross gaming revenues. After last year’s disappointment, Senator Bonacic has also expressed his intention of keeping S3893 on the “front burner”, explaining:

“Now that the Online Poker Bill has been reported out of Committee, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and in both houses, to ensure that this bill receives fair and timely consideration this legislative session.”

Many Challenges Ahead

Many familiar with politics in Albany feel that with bills in both houses of the New York legislature, there is a very real chance that online poker will finally be legalized this year. Nevertheless, those who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of iPoker in the state shouldn’t get prematurely excited as even if the separate bills do prove successful, the fight for legalizing online poker may only just be getting started.

For example, New York is currently engulfed in a legal battle over the daily fantasy sports betting legislation that Governor Cuomo signed into law last year. That’s because an anti-gambling group called Stop Predatory Gambling has filed a suit that objects to the law, and should internet poker legislation ultimately pass, the law may end up becoming subject to a similar lawsuit, meaning lengthy delays in implementation.

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