New York Online Poker Bill Clears Senate Finance Committee, But Tougher Tests Await

Posted on: May 10, 2017, 12:00h. 

Last updated on: May 10, 2017, 12:46h.

New York State’s online poker bill sailed through the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday and now heads to the Senate floor for debate, and ultimately, we hope, a vote.

New York online poker bill passed by Senate Finance Committee
Senator John Bonacic’s online poker bill would legalize hold’em and omaha, specifically, but it still has a long and perilous journey to Governor Cuomo’s desk. (Image: Mike Groll/AP)

Senator John Bonacic’s (R-42nd) bill, S 3898, would legalize online poker as a game of skill, or specifically hold’em and omaha, which are deemed by the senator, apparently, to be the most skillful variants.

While that point may be ripe for debate, there was no pre-vote discussion at the committee on Tuesday, whose members approved the bill by 27-9.  

While encouraging news for New York poker players who believe it is their birthright to remotely check-raise the living hell out of one another, the bill’s approval here should come as little surprise. It’s the Assembly we have to worry about.

Last year, S3898’s predecessor was approved emphatically in a full Senate vote, by a 53-5 margin, and there’s no reason to believe that Bonacic can’t secure similar support for an almost identical bill this year.

In the Assembly, though, it was a different story. It came unstuck miserably in the lower house; in fact, it wasn’t even debated, with its sponsor Assemblyman Gary Pretlow (D-89th) at one point wondering out loud whether poker was a game of skill at all.

Eyebrows were raised and Bonacic declared himself to be “confused” by Pretlow’s misgivings.

This year, though, having schlepped across the Hudson for a fact-finding mission in New Jersey, Pretlow has had his concerns laid to rest by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement and has declared himself to be fully behind the bill this year.

Nevertheless, it will need to work its way through three Assembly committees before it can go for a vote on the floor, which suggests the odds may be stacked against it.

“There are some individuals within the administration that are really opposed to this,” Pretlow announced ominously in February, although he also said he believes he can build the support to get it through.

Tribal Opposition

Online poker’s chances may have been hindered over the past few years by the fact that the state has legalized commercial casino gaming.

The mood was that there would be no new gambling expansion at least until the new casinos were up and running. Now that they largely are, online poker’s odds may have improved.

It will, however, likely face opposition from the state’s tribal casino and the lawmakers who represent them. As the language of the bill stands, it would not limit online poker licensees to land-based casino operators and their partners.

This is the case in the states that have regulated online gambling elsewhere. Instead, any existing gambling licensees would qualify, such as video lottery gaming operators, for example.

Tribal operators, already unhappy about the new commercial casinos, will not be pleased.