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New York inches ever closer to regulated online poker

TAGs: Gary Pretlow, New York

new-york-online-poker-finish-lineNew York’s latest online poker bill breezed through a state Senate committee vote on Tuesday but an uncertain future awaits in the state Assembly.

On Tuesday, the New York Senate Finance Committee voted to send the S-3898 online poker bill introduced earlier this year by Sen. John Bonacic to the Senate floor for debate and a possible vote. Five Committee members voted against the bill, but since no debate preceded the vote, the reason behind their opposition can only be guessed at.

The Committee’s vote was largely expected, as the full Senate approved Bonacic’s 2016 online poker effort by a wide margin. But the Assembly proved a far tougher nut to crack, and Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow declined to even bring the bill up for discussion last year.

In February, Pretlow suggested that a sufficient shift in opinion had taken place since last summer and thus the Assembly was more likely to welcome a poker vote in 2017. However, a Tuesday afternoon Tweet-storm from New York journalist Andrew Whitman (@WhitmanAndrew) suggested resistance against online poker might be stiffening in the Assembly.

Whitman reported that Pretlow had informed him of “serious objections” among some Assembly members, not about the specifics of any online poker plan, but from concerns about whether state politicians were “making it too easy” for state residents to gamble, citing the recent approval of a number of new land-based casinos, some of which have begun opening to the public.

Opposition is also expected from the state’s reliably restive tribal casino operators, and the Assembly members in whose districts the tribes’ gaming operations reside. Pretlow didn’t have a handle on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s feelings on the subject, but suggested Cuomo could be brought on board “if we dangle $100m [in online poker revenue] in front of him.”

Cuomo may not be so easily turned following Monday’s revelations that his 2014 re-election campaign received an allegedly illegal $25k donation from David Baazov, former CEO of Canada’s Amaya Gaming, the parent company of PokerStars. Cuomo may find it politically expedient to distance himself from online poker for the time being, either by signaling his disapproval ahead of an Assembly vote, or whipping out his veto pen afterward.

The current legislative session concludes at the end of June and an online poker bill needs to pass three Assembly committees before making it to a floor vote, although, as Tuesday’s vote proved, such hurdles can be cleared relatively quickly if the will is there.

Pretlow declined to handicap online poker’s chances, but suggested that if there’s no action at the committee level over the next three weeks, a floor vote is unlikely and New York’s poker players will be once again left saying ‘wait till next year.’

PENNSYLVANIA PAUSE
Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania state Senate committee was supposed to consider its own intrastate online gambling legislation on Tuesday, but the hearing was scrubbed at the last minute. No reason was cited, but Pennsylvania’s situation is far more complex than New York’s, with multiple land-based and online gambling proposals competing for attention, and legislators apparently haven’t yet decided on just what ingredients will go into this sausage.

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