At the end of 2016, poker players in America were left with disappointment and frustration as another year passed without new states having legalized online poker. While progress was made in states like Pennsylvania and New York, the bills ultimately died without enough action to enact laws.
A fresh start felt good, though, and the online poker world had quite an eventful first month of the new year. Many states, including the two mentioned above, have already introduced online poker/gaming bills, with even more parts of the country expressing an interest in the topic. Of course, most of the legislation will likely fall off the radar of lawmakers, there are high hopes throughout the industry that the United States will finally expand its online poker industry.
Busy time for iPoker supporters! With recent bills/expected bills in NY, PA, MI, HI, NH and more…and that's the way we like it!— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) January 30, 2017
Last year, Pennsylvania finally pushed a gambling expansion bill that included online gambling all the way through the House, but it failed to pass the Senate before the end of the year.
Legislators took up the topic early this year, with State Senator Kim Ward meeting on January 3 with executives from all 12 casinos and rumblings of another gambling expansion bill in the works. The following day, Senator Jay Costa released a Senate Co-Sponsorship Memorandum regarding his intention to introduce the legislation. In addition to solving the court-mandated casino tax issue, the bill would also allow internet sales for the state lottery, expand table gaming to airports, and allow online gambling and fantasy sports.
News then came within days that legislators were prepared to support the bill. Per Online Poker Report, Senator Mario Scavello estimated that action should be taken in March, and he expected the House and Senate to promptly pass the legislation.
Look for an official bill to be introduced in the coming weeks, likely adjusted to include any concerns from Ward’s meeting and other adjustments to fuel a quick passage.
In 2016, New York State Senator John Bonacic championed an online poker bill all the way through the Senate with a 53-5 vote in favor, but Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow suddenly emerged with concerns and failed to push that bill through the House.
Several weeks into 2017, Bonacic was back on the case and introduced S.3898, a bill to allow “certain interactive poker games be considered games of skill rather than games of luck,” as well as to authorize the licensing and regulation of online poker. The bill was immediately referred to the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, of which Bonacic is the chairperson.
Look for Bonacic to push this bill through the Senate again. Pretlow claims he will support the bill in the Assembly this year, which may mean that his fears or insecurities about online poker were assuaged in the past several months. Early attention to this topic may be a very good sign.
Last year, as in years past, a bill to regulate online poker was introduced but died with little fanfare. As the state law stands, online poker is a felony, and many legislators have long sought to change that status in favor of legalization to compliment revenue already collected from land-based facilities.
Before 2016 came to an end, a new study was released at the behest of the Washington State Gambling Commission, and it showed the potential for online gaming revenue at approximately $100 million per year and state gaming demographics similar to those of online players in New Jersey.
That might be what prompted the State Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee to hold a hearing in mid-January to discuss online poker and daily fantasy sports. PPA Executive Director John Pappas testified via Skype in support of legislation, and testimony was heard from a high school math teacher who admitted to breaking the law in order to play online poker in the past, as it is a game of skill and offered additional income for his family.
There is a strong possibility that legislation will be introduced again this year, and there may be more momentum behind it than before.
Yesterday's hearing in WA State proved that much more needs to be done to educate Indian tribes about how they can benefit from #iGaming-jp— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) January 19, 2017
A state that had not been on the industry radar much in past years emerged with a surprise bill. Republican State Representatives Eric Schleien, Nick Zaricki, and Robert Fisher sponsored HB.562, which was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. The bill would exempt online gambling from a list of current offenses and legalize the games.
While the bill may not contain language as hopeful as in other states’ bills, the issue is on the table and scheduled to be discussed at a hearing this week set to tackle DFS and online gambling issues. There may be hope here, as New Hampshire may see possibilities in New Jersey’s results.
Listed often as one of the most unlikely states to legalize online gambling, the issue is up for discussion now in Hawaii. State Senator Will Espero introduced SB.677 to legalize and regulate online gambling in order to benefit the state’s government. It mentions the tens of thousands of Hawaiians already gambling on illegal sites and the potential for the state to collect revenue from regulated games. A Hawaii Internet Lottery and Gaming Corporation would be established to regulate internet gaming and a potential lottery, as well as to oversee some occasional land-based gaming events.
Text of the iGaming bill dropped last Friday in Hawaii can be found here. https://t.co/JngQLOPv7R— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) January 23, 2017
Analysts give the bill little chance of progressing, as the state has a longstanding reputation for opposing any form of gambling.
Michigan State Senator Mike Kowall continually expressed confidence in his ability to pass a bill to regulate online gaming. However, despite a heavy push by Kowall and the PPA in November, the bill died without being put up for a vote by the end of the year.
The only news emerging from Michigan in the first month of 2017 was an update from Online Poker Report, which listed some potential holdups with new legislation due to concerns from tribal interests. While many land-based casinos are supportive of online gaming, more talks are likely in the works with tribes in order to ensure agreement before moving forward.
Good to meet you today @SchuetteOnDuty. Look forward to more discussion about iGaming, states' rights and Michigan public/legal policy – JP— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) January 18, 2017
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission remains embroiled in committee meetings and research to complete a study commissioned by Governor Charlie Baker in 2016. Results are not due until the end of July, but that is simply the deadline.
State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, also a longtime advocate for online gaming, took only a few weeks into 2017 to introduce preliminary legislation to that end. He put forth SD.618, a simple explanation of his proposal to license and regulate online gaming in coordination with land-based casinos. A separate push for online lottery sales is already underway via separate legislation.
Tarr’s bill could be a setup awaiting the results of the committee study. While there may not be much movement in the next few months, the summer could heat things up with MGC head Steve Crosby leading the way.