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Proponents of online poker regulation in the New York legislature have made three attempts at pushing bills toward committee votes in the past several years. As the state moves toward legalized land-based casinos, Internet poker supporters have encouraged online poker as a companion to increase the revenue potential of that emerging industry.

By the second day of February in 2016, the latest bill had already passed the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee by a unanimous vote.

The question remains, however, as to whether this bill will make any more headway than past bills. The committee vote was a positive step in 2016, but will it matter in the overall plan to bring online poker to New York?

2013 Attempt

In March of 2013, online poker was introduced to the New York legislature as a part of the state budget bill. Leaders of the Senate at that time – Jeff Klein and Dean Skelos – inserted the following language in the budget: “The Senate supports authorizing and regulating Internet gaming for games of skill, including poker, to reflect recent changes in the classification of these games.”

A non-binding version of that budget bill passed the Senate and Assembly. The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) then hailed the move as a positive move to make online poker a part of any debate concerning the legalization of casinos. Executive Director John Pappas also noted that it was important to convince Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow of the benefits of online poker for New York.

Online poker language was ultimately pulled from that bill in 2013.

2014 Attempt

Conversations with Pretlow worked, and he took it upon himself to bring online poker to the New York Assembly. After State Senator John Bonacic introduced S6913 to the Senate to legalize and regulate online poker in March of 2014, Pretlow followed with A09509 for the Assembly.

Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow

Credit: Lori Van Buren/Times Union

The bills were identical, requesting legalization of online poker only and a debate in the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee. Increased tax revenue and up to $100 million in licensing revenue was a selling point of the legislation. Some of the details of the bills were:

  • Up to online poker licenses could be issued.
  • Each license required a fee of $10 million and would be effective for 10 years.
  • State tax would be 15% of gross gaming revenue from each site.
  • New York State Gaming Commission would protect consumers against underage and compulsive gambling, as well as fraud.
  • Liquidity agreements with other states would be allowed.
  • Bad actors (companies taking US wagers after December 31, 2006) would be disqualified.

Neither bill made it through its respective committee.

2015 Attempt

Bonacic stepped up again in May of 2015 with a new online poker bill. He introduced S5302, which was essentially the same as his previous piece of legislation. The one major exception was that the bad actor clause had been removed. And Pretlow followed with a companion piece for the Assembly.

Again, however, neither bill made it through a committee with a vote to move forward.

Hello 2016!

What makes 2016 different than attempts made the previous years?

In mid-January of the current year, Bonacic revived his S5302 from the Senate for reconsideration in the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee. And Pretlow introduced his A9049. These bills were essentially the same as those in the previous year, still without the bad actor clause. And it should be noted that the $10 million license fee had a new feature that allowed it to be offset against taxes paid in the course of the first three years of operation in New York.

Several points stand out about the 2016 efforts:

Point #1: The bills were brought up for consideration in the first month of the year, evidencing some type of priority by the sponsors and an indication of importance for the legislature.

Point #2: The Senate bill not only went before the committee on February 2, but it passed by a unanimous vote. Bonacic then released a statement about the development and noted the bill’s progress to the Finance Committee. “I anticipate having ongoing discussions with my colleagues in both Houses regarding this bill as session moves forward,” he said.

Point #3: Land-based casinos are in the process of being built. Three companies were granted licenses in December 2015 to move forward with the projects, all expected to open for business in 2017. In addition, there are already five tribal casinos operating in the state. All would be eligible for license applications for Internet poker, and legalization in 2016 would ensure readiness for launches in 2017.

What’s Next?

Rich Muny of the PPA told Poker Update, “Following the terrific 9-0 vote for poker in the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, S.5302-B will head to the Senate Finance Committee. Readers in New York should keep an eye on their inboxes for actions they can take to ensure this hearing is a great success for poker.”

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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.