New New York Online Poker Bill Introduced by Assemblyman Gary Pretlow

Another online-poker legalization bill has been introduced in the State of New York, amid cloudy prospects in the state that 2019 will be the year that such a legalization measure becomes law in the Empire State. NY Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow on February 5 dropped Assembly Bill 4924 (A4924).

Pretlow, the powerful chairman of the NY Assembly’s Committee on Racing and Wagering, has introduced several previous measures related to online poker in prior years, and a look inside A4924 shows it to be virtually identical to his last effort, the 2017-18 session’s A5250. The bill’s approach, then remains the same, first to categorize online poker specifically as a game of skill under New York’s stricter-than-other-states gambling laws, and then to authorize the creation of a regulatory framework for the issuing of licenses and the collecting of tax revenue.

New York StampAs in Pretlow’s earlier bills, there’s a one-time application fee for operators of $10 million. Pretlow’s bill remains notable for not having any “bad actor” language within it, in contrast to the NY Senate’s version of an online-poker legalization bill that was championed by State Sen. John Bonacic in recent years. Pretlow’s bill — still not much past a shell measure at this point, also carries forward earlier language regarding possible interstate compacts.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the tale, and that whole interstate thing heads the list. In the wake of last month’s DOJ opinion reversing the 2011 opinion offered by then-US Attorney General Eric Holder that limited the reach of the US’s antiquated Wire Act, the prospects for any interstate online gambling (including poker) appear headed to a federal court fight. Intrastate poker seems more safe in the meantime, yet in any event, Pretlow’s bill is due for an overhaul.

Whether it gets the chance for such a makeover is uncertain. In previous years, Pretlow has been willing to trade off possible votes on any online-poker legislation in New York in favor of other gambling-expansion opportunities, most notably casino expansion in the state, daily fantasy sports (DFS), and more recently, legalized sports betting. There’s no reason to believe Pretlow won’t trade down online poker interests again, especially if significant differences between his bill and any passed Senate version continue to linger.

There’s also the matter of a recent measure introduced that seeks to research the gambling habits of New Yorkers. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal’s A0951 was introduced last month, and if passed, the bill would call for the NY State Gaming Commission to “a statewide evaluation regarding the extent of gambling by New York state residents, including, but not limited to the lottery, horse racing, Native American casinos, internet gambling, sports betting, and poker.”

The study, if approved, could stretch all the way into 2023, and ant-gambling factions in the state would almost surely use the existence of such an ongoing study as a reason not to jump the gun regarding online-poker approval. That’s despite the fact that studies elsewhere have shown online poker to be a less-addictive gambling form than many others, though there are certainly tragic addictive-gambling tales that have surfaced in connection with the game.

Add it all up, and it’s a messy tableau, certainly no more favorable to eventual approval in 2019 when compared with previous years. Still, there’s always hope.

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