New York Online Poker Bills Return for 2018 Legislative Consideration

New York’s chances to become the fifth US state to authorize and regulate online poker remain intact for 2018, with two still-active measures remaining on the state’s legislative docket for consideration later this year.

The first of the two bills which have now been returned to their respective State Senate and Assembly Committees is the S3898 measure proposed by State Sen. John Bonacic. Bonacic, a Republican from New York’s 42nd Senate District, has introduced an online-poker legalization bill in every legislative session since 2014.

Since New York’s state legislature conducts its business in two-year sessions, the S3898 bill that Bonacic championed remains active, even though it died in New York’s State Aseembly as of the end of 2017 without being called for a vote.

Sen. Bonacic, though, has succeeded in getting his online-poker bill passed in each of the past two years by not only his originating committee, the Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, but by the full New York Senate as well. That bodes well for S3898 to be passed again in 2018, perhaps even without any additional amendments; the active version of S3898 is the same version that the Senate approved last June on a lopsided 54-8 vote. That bill would authorize up to 11 online licenses serving New Yorkers, with each licensee assessed a $10 million application and licensing fee, plus GGR (gross gaming revenue) taxed at a workable 15 percent. Players would have to be 21 or older to participate in real-money wagering.

A similar re-birthing awaits the New York Assembly’s most likely vehicle for online-poker legislation, the A5250 measure sponsored by Rep. Gary Pretlow. Pretlow chairs the Assembly’s version of the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, but he’s been far less successful in moving online-poker legislation in that body. Last year, the A5250 bill languished in Pretlow’s committee — it was passed at one point to a sub-committee for a technical once-over — and never even received a committee vote.

Pretlow has demonstrated both cold feet and a bit of two-facedness when faced with actually moving the bill, despite what appears to be broad support for a measure similar to Bonacic’s Senate version. The New York Assembly likely will be the metaphorical sticky wicket in 2018, regarding online poker’s chances, though last year’s addition of neighboring Pennsylvania to the “approved” list of US states adds a bit more incentive to get the deal done.

One odd complication, however, could dampen an online-poker bill’s chances in New York: The state is also conducting preliminary investigation into legalized sports betting, tracking along with the possible success of neighboring New Jersey’s Supreme Court challenge to the US’s PASPA ban against such activity in most US states.

Online poker looked like a good bet in New York a couple of years ago, only to be sidetracked in favor of debate on daily fantasy sports (DFS). A similar situation could occur in New York, should New Jersey prevail. New York’s legislators could decide to legalize sports betting force, and again push online-poker legislation onto a back burner under the guise of both topics being “too much gambling expansion, too soon.”

Even then, though, it might mean a delay of only another year or two. Despite the potential pitfalls, New York remains one of the top candidates to make online poker fully legal in 2018.

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