As the summer months heat up, so goes the fight for online poker in the United States. It was another emotional roller coaster of a month in June – much like in May – for fans of the game, as the Poker Players Alliance kept busy with a number of states still in contention to legalize online poker in 2016.
The bad news from New York was countered by more promise from Pennsylvania, hopes still alive in California, and other states like Michigan still in the running. No news was good news for RAWA, as any type of federal ban on internet poker seems to be fading into the abyss with Sheldon Adelson’s dreams. Let’s take a look at everything that happened in June and what we’re watching in July.
Sometimes, it takes a rough patch to find out who is a friend or enemy in a particular situation. The failure of New York online poker in 2016 was that rough patch.
When the month began, there was still hope. While Assemblyman Gary Pretlow predicted little movement for his online poker bill on that side of the legislature, State Senator John Bonacic was preparing to push his bill (S5302) as part of the New York budget solution. He scheduled the bill for a vote in the Senate Finance Committee on June 2.
And it passed by a vote of 20-8. That moved S5302 to the Senate floor.
That prompted MGM Resorts to issue a public statement in support of the bill and the legalization of online poker in general for New Yorkers. Bonacic continued his push for the bill during a news interview in which he expressed his support and noted that “All of the gaming interests want it.” That included all of the New York racinos and casinos, the latter of which are still under construction.
More good news followed, as the Senate then voted on the bill, and it passed by a vote of 53-5.
BREAKING: The full NY Senate passed the online #poker bill 53-5!— Rich Muny (@RichMuny) June 14, 2016
But that was the end of the good news. With absolutely no effort from Pretlow in the Assembly, the bill died for the session and will have to begin anew in 2017. Interestingly, when asked about his lack of effort, Pretlow told PokerNews that he didn’t feel that poker was a game of skill like DFS. Bonacic was surprised by the comments and insisted that poker is a game of skill.
While the success of New York online poker this year means the bill has a solid chance of passage next year, Bonacic may need to find a new partner in the Assembly to push the bill alongside his Senate movements. With time to find that supporter, though, early 2017 is a reasonable projection for online poker to pass in New York.
This was a very good month for Pennsylvania online gaming. As was detailed here, State Representative John Payne pushed his HB 649 into a larger gambling expansion bill that eventually became an amendment (HB 2150) to the state budget bill. That version disposed of the controversial video gaming terminals provision and found success as the House voted 115-80 to pass it.
At that point, the bill had to go to a Senate committee for review before being put before the Senate for a vote. The positive reaction from the House, however, and the growing support for overall gaming expansion in Pennsylvania leads many to believe the bill will pass with online gambling in it. Payne insisted that the budget bill would be discussed throughout the holiday weekend and possibly passed by July 4, though as of July 3, that looks far too optimistic.
Online poker legislative update: Not expecting anything in CA; PA bill still in Senate CERD committee but could see action today— Steve Ruddock (@SteveRuddock) June 30, 2016
If online gaming passes with the budget in the Senate, the only remaining step will be obtaining the signature of Governor Tom Wolf. With a budget badly needed, he will likely sign it without delay.
The online poker community is on the edge of their collective seats as Pennsylvania remains so close to becoming the fourth state in America to legalize and regulate the game.
State Senator Mike Kowall has been the champion of SB 889 to legalize online gaming in Michigan over the past few months. He got the bill to the Regulatory Reform Committee in May, but there was only a discussion and no vote. He promised another hearing in June.
He followed through with a committee hearing on June 8, and the vote saw the bill pass by 8-1. The bill then went directly to the Senate floor, but no news has come from Michigan since. If an online gambling measure didn’t make it into the final state budget, the bill was likely dead. If that is indeed the case, the good news is that Kowall is quite optimistic and set on this legislation and is likely to push it in early 2017.
A Michigan Senate committee just passed an online #poker licensing bill. Details of legislation still being worked on but great step for MI!— Rich Muny (@RichMuny) June 8, 2016
Oh, California, you complicated state!
Take a moment to brush up via this summary of all that happened in May and June regarding the movement or lack thereof of Assemblyman Adam Gray’s online poker bill, AB 2863. Essentially, Gray’s bill was continually amended until it settled on a tax rate and licensing fee accepted by the PokerStars coalition of 21 entities, including card rooms, tribes, and horse racing organizations. Another group of six tribes, however, led by Pechanga and Agua Caliente, was unhappy with the bad actor clause.
Well that's it. The internet #poker bill passes the CA Assembly Appropriations committee and will move to the asm floor. Lot more work to do— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) June 22, 2016
Gray put the bad actor clause in the bill to satisfy those six tribes but made sure to please PokerStars as well. At first, the clause stated that licensing would be denied to any company that offered online poker to California residents after the 2011 Department of Justice ruling on the Wire Act, but Gray then changed it to push that date back to the passage of the UIGEA in 2006. However, any company falling into that category (ahem, PokerStars) could either wait five years to enter the market or pay $20 million to bypass that and apply immediately for licensing.
The Pechanga group was not amused and proposed a new bad actor clause to force a company like PokerStars to wait 10 years AND pay $60 million at that point to enter the market. Gray has yet to concede and is unlikely to do so. Meanwhile, PokerStars (Amaya) released a statement about the latest attempt by the tribal group to stop the bill: “It is a shame that obstructionist forces continue to block the passage of a pro-consumer online poker bill in California. We finally have real progress this year, with the majority of gaming tribes supporting the legislation, along with the AFL-CIO, SEIU Teamsters, horse racing tracks, card rooms, and gaming operators. Unfortunately, a recent amendment to AB 2863 is unconstitutional and our opponents seem intent to expand upon that flawed and unconstitutional language.”
The two sides may, sadly, be at an impasse. Gray is caught between two sides that refuse to budge on the singular topic of PokerStars. And his frustration is evident, having noted that the online poker bill is the strongest in the country but also the “most vetted bill this legislative session” in the entire state of California. Even though AB 2863 passed the Appropriations Committee as it currently reads and could be put to a vote on the House floor, the opposing tribes have vowed to do whatever possible to see the bill defeated.
As of the end of June, the bill is alive, but it still sits with opposition that could defeat it. With the California legislature now on its summer break until after July 31, discussions must happen behind closed doors throughout the month to ensure movement on the bill when lawmakers return in August.