The month of February was an eventful one for the online poker industry in the United States. While some of the developments were not very encouraging, such as Jeff Sessions being confirmed as the US Attorney General, others put online poker closer to becoming a reality for states like New York and Pennsylvania.
Let’s get to the latest happenings on the federal and state level as February comes to a close.
Federal US Online Poker
Senator Jeff Sessions is now US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as he was confirmed at the beginning of the month by the required number of votes from the House and Senate. Sessions is not only a friend and benefactor of the notoriously anti-online poker Sheldon Adelson, he has already indicated that he is willing to reexamine the 2011 Department of Justice decision to remove online gambling from Wire Act restrictions.
Sessions is just getting his bearings in his new position, so it is not likely that he will reverse the DOJ decision too soon. However, the pressure is on from online gaming opponents, as evidenced by Senator Lindsey Graham’s inclusion of the DOJ topic in his questioning of Sessions in a nomination hearing.
Adelson is making his presence and wishes known to many in the Trump administration, including during a closed-door meeting last week with Vice President Mike Pence. Earlier in the month, Adelson met with President Donald Trump. With a nearly unlimited bankroll to fight for a federal ban on internet gambling, including poker, Adelson’s meetings are deeply concerning.
The goal of expanding gambling in Pennsylvania, including the regulation of online poker and casinos, got off to a roaring start in February with action early in January that translated to several memoranda indicating the intent to introduce bills in both houses of the legislature. With Jay Costa in the Senate and Representatives Rosita Youngblood and George Dunbar in the House eager to put forth bills, February started on a positive note.
Excitement for legislation increased during the first week of February when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf released his latest budget proposal and indicated that online gambling would be integral to the ability to meet his budget requirements. Later in the month, a PPA representative asked Wolf about the issue during a Facebook Live press conference, to which Wolf replied that Pennsylvania is learning from other states’ online gambling regimes and seeking to replicate a successful online poker system.
That led to Dunbar introducing HB.392, a gambling expansion bill with numerous co-sponsors ready to endorse proposals that will meet Wolf’s allocation of $250 million in the state’s budget.
The latest news indicating enthusiasm for the issue came in the form of an announcement that a hearing will take place on March 7. The Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee and House Gaming Oversight Committee will each send members to the hearing to discuss gambling expansion, including online gaming and daily fantasy sports. The hearing will likely give a solid indication of the momentum behind legislation.
The year began with New York State Senator John Bonacic introducing S.3898 to legalize and regulate online poker as a skill game. And as February got underway, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow did the same by putting forth A.5250 in the House. The bill was identical to Bonacic’s Senate proposal.
While Pretlow was somewhat indecisive in the past about his stance on internet poker, he has come forward as a solid supporter in 2017. In a recent interview, Pretlow indicated his satisfaction with geolocation and online poker safety. He also noted that he doesn’t see much opposition standing in the way of the legislation.
Meanwhile, Bonacic pushed his bill through the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee with unanimous approval by a vote of 11-0. That bill is now in the hands of the Senate Finance Committee for approval before hitting the floor of the legislature for a debate and vote.
Overall, the positive words and actions from Bonacic and Pretlow have New Yorkers feeling quite confident that online poker is in the cards this year.
BREAKING: @JGPretlow – chair of Assemb. racing/wagering says he supports legal online & card room poker in NY – could happen this session— Andrew Whitman (@WhitmanAndrew) February 24, 2017
Oh, hello, California! The Golden State is back in the game this year. While the previous nine years have failed to produce passable online poker bills, legislators in support of the measure are ready to try again in 2017.
State Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer introduced the first online poker bill of 2017 in California. AB.1677 is the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act and will give Native American tribes and cardrooms the option to launch online poker sites to residents of the state at least 21 years of age.
While the horse racing industry is satisfied with the proposal, most of the state’s tribes are skeptical, as the new bill leaves the suitability determination up to the state regulator. Seeing as the bad actor clause in the bill, which defines the status of PokerStars to operate in the proposed industry, is vague in the bill’s language, it is unlikely that any parties will support the legislation as it stands.
However, the door has been opened for 2017 negotiations, and if Jones-Sawyer wants to bring the various parties to the table to discuss their options, players will be interested to see what comes of it.
Washington, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Michigan, and Massachusetts are still on the radar of poker players in 2017, but no new developments came forth in February. But keep in mind that bills are pending, the year is still fresh, and legislators and lobbyists have plenty of time to make their moves.