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In some ways, March was an exciting month for the online poker industry in the United States. New York looked more promising as its online poker bill makes good progress, and New Jersey was put under a big yet positive spotlight as PokerStars launched to players in the state and drove traffic and new accounts upward.

However, the buck stopped there. There was little news from other states that held promise when February came to an end. But as winter ends and spring bringing new energy and life, online poker advocates can only hope that a new season is also on the horizon for online poker.

New Jersey

Legalized online poker seems to be going quite well for the state of New Jersey, as PokerStars became the latest and largest company to join the fray. More than two years into online gambling offerings in the state, PokerStars came in with more online poker and casino options and drove traffic up approximately 20% in just one week.

The Division of Gaming Enforcement is unlikely to alter its approval of PokerStars’ license, despite the news of charges levied by Quebec’s securities and regulatory authority, Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), against Amaya CEO and Chairman David Baazov. The situation is currently in flux, as Baazov has not been convicted of any of the insider trading allegations, and he is still in the process of putting together a formal bid to purchase the company. Should that sale happen, the DGE would likely reevaluate the company’s license.

California

Hopes were high at the end of February with the introduction of AB 2863 from California Assemblyman Adam Gray. There was a $60 million payment plan in place for the horse racing industry, which would come from the state’s online poker revenues and be used to placate the horse tracks for not being allowed to offer online poker services. Several major Indian tribes and coalitions, including the PokerStars group with tribes and card rooms, expressed support for the legislation.

CA assemblyman adam gray

However, there were some obvious missing links in the latest bill. In addition to no details for revenue distribution, there was no mention of a bad actor clause, which applies to online poker companies that offered services to US players after the UIGEA passed in 2006. PokerStars would be considered a bad actor. And with the latest aforementioned news regarding Amaya and its CEO might enough to prompt legislators and/or those with concerns to force a bad actor clause into any bill to be passed.

There was no update from California in March. It was eerily silent after the flurry of February activity. There are many possible reasons for this, but action must pick up if there is to be any forward movement on the bill before the summer break.

Pennsylvania

For the second month in a row, there was no word of progress for Internet poker legislation in Pennsylvania. In fact, there was no word at all.

At last word, State Representative John Payne was pushing his HB 649 for approval by the middle of the 2016 summer. The bill had been made heavy with amendments for other gambling expansion for the state’s land-based casinos, but it had more support than ever before.

There is a growing optimism that the bill will be included in the 2016 budget due to the state’s need for revenue and an urgency for Payne to finish what he started before his retirement later this year. In addition, neighboring New Jersey saw another boost to its online gaming revenue with the addition of PokerStars, and there is an appeal to join the club, attract some of that growing consumer base, and eventually partner with New Jersey for poker liquidity.

Hope lives that this will spur action in Pennsylvania in April or May, but no one is placing any bets on it.

New York

Hello, New York!

At the beginning of the year, online poker legislation in New York seemed like a long shot, as it had been in previous years. But two legislators – Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (author of A9049) and Senator John Bonacic (author of S5302B) brought it to life and gave it momentum in a way that they hadn’t been able to before.

The Senate had been working on its budget plan, and when the budget was introduced as S6409B, it not only included daily fantasy sports but S5302 from Bonacic for online poker. And according to Online Poker Report, a majority of the State Senate is supporting the budget bill.

There is some hesitation about these actions leading to ultimate success for online poker in New York, but there is also encouragement. Pretlow told Gambling Compliance that if land-based casinos were supportive of it, “we will probably move the bill this year.”

Pretlow and Bonacic were key to a successful and unanimous vote of passage in the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee in February. More progress has been made on the bill in the first three months of 2016 than in years past, and the two legislators seem determined to lock in the regulation of Internet poker to coincide with the opening of the first three major casinos in New York.

However, we had to slow our roll. Just as this prepared to go to the editor, the Poker Players Alliance tweeted that online poker had been removed from the budget. More action is promised for later this year, but it remains to be seen in what form that may be.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.

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