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Last year was a disappointing year for many poker players in the United States. States like Pennsylvania and New York came desperately close to passing legislation to legalize and regulate online poker, but each state failed to pass their bills in both houses by the end of the year. States like Michigan and California furthered hopes of online poker growth, but those pieces of legislation did not even make it to the floor for a vote.

In fact, the last several years have been frustrating, as New Jersey was the last state to join the small group of three that allow legal online poker within their respective borders. When New Jersey legalized online poker and casino games in 2013 in coordination with land-based casinos, many felt the move would start a trend. And when the industry collected millions of dollars in revenue, it seemed to set a good example for other states that also needed an additional source of revenue to help state budget deficits.

Still, the road has been long and winding. And as of the start of 2017, no other states have been able to follow New Jersey’s lead.

2017 Starts with a Bang

It took only days into the new year for several states to indicate a willingness to explore online poker, and several of them even furthered their efforts with memoranda and proposals, promises and positivity about their intentions to pass legislation this year.

Pennsylvania got off to a quick start with Senator Kim Ward hosting a meeting with officials from all 12 land-based casinos in the state, and fellow Senator Jim Costa quickly prepared a co-sponsorship memorandum to indicate his intention to introduce a bill. The gambling expansion bill is similar to legislation pushed forward through the Senate in 2016, and it includes online lottery games, daily fantasy sports, and online poker and casino games. The bill also includes a fix for the local tax, something that was ordered by the courts in late 2016.

New York Senator John Bonacic indicated a willingness to again spearhead a bill through the Senate, as he successfully did last year. And though Representative J. Gary Pretlow failed to help the bill through the Assembly in 2016, he has expressed his support for it this year.

Massachusetts was a state that is in the process of researching online gaming, with results required by the summer months, but that isn’t stopping lawmakers from pushing early. Longtime online poker supporter Bruce Tarr, Senator Minority Leader in the state, introduced legislation in the third week of the year to authorize and regulate internet gambling. Details for the bill have yet to be revealed, but the early start is encouraging.

Michigan emerged as an online poker possibility last year due to Senator Mike Kowell’s enthusiasm for his own legislation, but it failed to move to a vote. But early indications in January from Online Poker Report say that legislation will be difficult due to potential conflicts with Indian tribes. If the legislators and special interests can discuss the issues more productively than those in California, the state does have a chance and several casinos and lawmakers willing to champion the cause.

Keep Your Pants On

The states mentioned above and their very early movements toward online gaming certainly serve as encouragement to a weary and struggling fan base. It is easy to get excited about more states legalizing the games and ultimately banding together to share liquidity. Poker players vividly recall the glory days of online poker and want to be hopeful that those days will return.

On the other hand, the past several years are proof that the process is anything but easy. Partisan politics and the predominance of serious and important issues do not help online poker advocates. While groups like the Poker Players Alliance are skilled at stressing the importance of regulation for consumer protections, as well as the danger of the currently unregulated market, many lawmakers are wary of legalizing games with a somewhat negative reputation. And the technology required to make the games safe goes over the heads of many politicians.

The efforts to introduce bills early and start discussions just as legislators begin their sessions are encouraging, but perspective is important. Many states started the same processes early in past years and failed to garner support for forward movement.

But to maximize all of the possibilities already on the table in 2017, it is important to get involved. The PPA always offers suggestions for involvement via its website, and PPA representatives are always happy to discuss other ways to help the cause.

If you want this year to be different, it’s up to you to garner momentum and join the movement.

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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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