This year has been a roller coaster of emotions for poker players and fans who support the spread of online poker in the United States. Since the beginning of 2016, a number of states have seen progress with new bills introduced, hearings held in committees, and the settlement of some longtime impediments to moving legislation forward.
However, other hurdles remain and deadlines loom. RAWA has still shown to have support in Congress, and legislators in various states have yet to push online gaming – or even just Internet poker – to a floor vote, despite efforts to attach wording to must-pass budget bills.
State by state, let’s look at what happened in May in each situation and pull any remaining hope out of the complicated system. For refreshers from last month, click here for the April summary.
If you wanna play online poker eventually in MI, CA, PA or NY, time to call your reps https://t.co/f61WRFquVO— Dustin Gouker (@DustinGouker) May 23, 2016
When Michigan State Senator Mike Kowall introduced SB 889 in mid-April, the bill to legalize online gaming on an intrastate level was a bit of a surprise, as Michigan wasn’t on many lists of states likely to get involved. However, the bill went to the Committee on Regulatory Reform for a potential hearing.
That hearing was then set for May 4, during which the details of the bill became clearer. Amaya had been lobbying for the bill behind the scenes for several years, which explained why testimony was offered by three different representatives of Amaya.
Many particulars remained unclear, however, such as the issue of tribal sovereignty and the lack of any public stance from the state’s three primary casinos or any of 20+ tribal casinos. With only eight licenses available under the proposed legislation, many gaming entities in Michigan would be unable to participate in the new industry.
There was no vote at the end of the hearing, meaning another hearing must be scheduled. And according to a member of Kowall’s staff, the bill may undergo changes before that time. That spokesperson did say that all would happen in late May or early June, and he expressed confidence that the bill could be passed through the state legislature this year. And Kowall himself is optimistic that it will move quickly through the Senate and House with positive votes.
When May began, online poker proponents awaited word from Assemblyman Adam Gray about the possibility of his AB 2863 online poker bill going to the Assembly for a vote. What came, however, was the notice of another hearing, then the postponement of that hearing, and then yet another rescheduling.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee was originally set for May 18, hot on the heels of the April Governmental Organization Committee 18-0 vote in favor of the proposal. That date was then changed to May 25, and the latest is that the hearing will now be held on June 15.
Save the Date! An important California I Poker Hearing will take place on June 15, 2016.— David Fried (@calgaminglaw) May 18, 2016
Possible reasons for the postponements include the uncertainty over language regarding the bad actor clause and the establishment of the tax rate. Debates continue behind closed doors to work out differences among the tribal constituents and card rooms so the bill can be reworded in time for the next committee. Gray and others would like to present a complete piece of legislation that is acceptable to all parties. If that happens, the bill could go from the committee to the Assembly floor as previously planned.
If all goes well, the legislature would have ample time to pass the bill and send it to the governor for approval, as the deadline is the end of August. With all parties likely quite tired of discussing the issue and wanting to access the potential revenue from the online poker industry, and with Gray pushing hard for a successful outcome, there is still hope for California in 2016.
When online poker finally gets regulated in California(which was 18% of global market)we will see HUGE amounts of new sponsorship dollars😄— Dan Fleyshman (@DanFleyshman) May 30, 2016
In April, we reported that one of the two legislators pushing for New York online poker gave it long adds to pass this year. After a strong start for bills from Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow and State Senator John Bonacic, even an attempt to add the latter’s bill to the budget, the outlook was bleak.
Silence throughout the month of May only added to the dismay. And then Online Poker Report emerged on May 30 with a ray of hope. Evidently, Bonacic’s S5302 is on the docket to be discussed at this week’s Senate Finance Committee meeting. Considering the legislation made huge strides earlier this year when it passed the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee by a 9-0 vote, another committee approval could be the push it needs.
There isn’t much time to move, though. Should the bill move forward this Thursday, its sister bill in the House would need to make similar progress in order to put the bills up for votes in the legislature before the summer break begins in mid-June.
NY #poker players be sure to check your inboxes later today for an important way to bring iPoker to NY— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) May 31, 2016
State Representative John Payne has never given up on HB 649, despite seeing it balloon into a massive gambling expansion bill that included a controversial segment about video gaming terminals, which would be installed at airports and other public spaces. His efforts to promote the bill in the media and to fellow legislators consisted of strongly suggesting its inclusion in a budget bill, all to no avail.
But in May, two gambling expansion amendments were presented on the House floor on May 24, and online gambling language was included. It was a highly contested session, though, mostly due to the VGTs. The result of the first session was chaos and defeat, but a second vote kept the amendments – A7622 and A7619 – on the table for consideration.
Rep Payne is killing it right now! Defending his bill and need for consumer protections and new revenue! Thank you sir!— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) May 24, 2016
The next step is another discussion in the House on June 6. Should online gaming achieve the desired positive vote, it could go on to the Senate for further approval. There is no question that the majority of the casinos support online gaming as well as other forms of expansion in order to properly compete with neighboring states like New Jersey. Payne is also set on pushing his bill before his retirement later this year, so his efforts on June 6 are likely to reflect that desire, along with more clarity than was offered in the last session.
The Restoration of America’s Wire Act reared its ugly head again in May. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson continued to pressure advocates of his anti-online gaming stance to push RAWA in Congress, and Senator Lindsey Graham did just that.
RAWA author Graham added language to outlaw online gaming via the 1961 Wire Act to a recent budget bill for the Senate Appropriations Committee. That language was then added to the House version of the bill as well via Representative Charlie Dent. But when the House Appropriations Committee took to discuss the amendment, a majority of the committee members demanded that the RAWA-style amendment be withdrawn.
Ultimately, Dent withdraws his amendment. Equivalent as failure. We win. RAWA loses! Thank you for taking action to defeat this effort!— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) May 24, 2016
Graham’s addition to the Senate budget still stands, but it is likely to face the same scrutiny when discussions arise. Most analysts say that this underhanded way of passing serious legislation, one that hurts states’ rights and overrides three states that already enacted pro-online gaming regulation, will not stand. Adelson begs to differ.
The Poker Players Alliance is keeping a close eye on the situation in light of the way the 2006 UIGEA was passed, on the back of a must-pass bill for port security.