New York Online Poker Efforts Lag as DFS Battle Garners Attention

Regulated US online poker’s recent track record of being shunted out of the way in favor of trendier subjects continues in New York State, where advocates of a prominent pro-poker measure are now admitting that there’s little chance of movement on the topic this year. It’s more of the same-old, same-old for online poker in the US, whether the attention has been hampered by competing market interests (as in California) or attention to the hottest news topcs (daily fantasy sports) as has happened in several other states.

newyorkpostcardIn New York, generally regarded as one of the most likely US states to approve regulated online poker in the near future, the delay is largely DFS-induced. Appearing via an online hookup at last week’s iGaming North America 2016 conference, New York State Assemblyman Gary Pretlow cast his doubts on online poker’s chances for 2016 in the Empire State.

“With online poker, there are some issues there and we’re not really prepared to introduce legislation that’s going to go to the floor for a vote,” said Pretlow. He and fellow NY state legislator John Bonacic have been among the driving forces for online-poker regulation in the state, which now finds itself buried behind the attention-grabbing DFS legal issue and New York’s own ongoing, land-based casino expansion plans. “You’re looking at a 100-1 shot to hit the floor, a 1,000-1 shot to hit the floor,” added Pretlow.

Pretlow also hinted at unspecified “constitutional issues” in his brief, enthusiasm-dampening statement. The online-poker topic had made it into preliminary New York State budget discussions, before being pulled from later budget talks. New York, as with several other states where online-poker bills have been introduced, is home to some tribal gaming operations. Whether any of the NY tribes have taken a hardline stance behind the scenes, similar to what occurred in California, remains unknown; however, tribal gaming interests have proven to have had a largely negative impact on online-poker regulatory efforts across the US.

Given the general support that Bonacic’s Senate Bill 5302 and Pretlow’s matching Assembly bill had enjoyed, it’s been a surprise. Bonacic’s bill even passing an early committee vote on a unanimous 9-0 count, upon which time it’s been effectively pigeon-holed. The development was, perhaps, not wholly unexpected, but it’s a sad turn of events nonetheless. Instead, NY legislators’ collective attention has been forcibly dragged over to the DFS front, in large part due to the high-visibility lawsuits brought by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman against the two largest operators in that space, DraftKings and FanDuel.

Schneiderman’s NY AG office recently announced a partial settlement in the DraftKings/FanDuel cases, but even that settlement implied that the whole DFS issue in New York be brought before the state’s legislative bodies sooner rather than later. And that’s left Bonacic’s SB 5302 adrift and behind what most legislators view as more urgent needs.

It’s an ironic twist when one considers that the DFS industry would never have grown the way it did had online poker’s “Black Friday” occurred in 2011 – an event that celebrated its unhappy fifth anniversary just yesterday. The US online-poker industry accidentally created modern, online DFS, and due to DFS’ own legal issues has to wait behind its own creation for a chance to return to its old market grounds.  Optimistic estimations post-Black Friday often asserted that 12-15 states were likely to legalize online poker in the first five years or so after the major gray market sites were forced to leave.  Reality, as we have seen, has been much slower.


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