Tough Fold: Legal Online Poker Off the Table in New York for 2017

Posted on: June 19, 2017, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: June 19, 2017, 06:02h.

The State Assembly in New York will not be passing a bill to legalize online poker before the chamber adjourns this Wednesday, June 21. That’s according to the NY Daily News, which spoke to Assemblyman Gary Pretlow (D-Westchester), the prime sponsor of legislation that would’ve made the fourth most populous state in the country the fourth state to offer the online game.

New York online poker Bonacic Pretlow
The online poker dream team in New York, State Sen. John Bonacic (left) and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow say they will continue their push for legal online poker in 2018. (Images: State of New York)

Assembly Bill 5250 sought to redefine Texas Hold’em and Omaha as games of skill rather than chance, a key distinction that would’ve allowed both games to be played online.

But Pretlow changed his optimistic tune going into the final week of legislative session, telling proponents to withhold their enthusiasm. “There was some opposition,” Pretlow said. “We’ll pick it up next year more than likely.”

Better Luck Next Year

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA), the leading lobbying group for internet poker in Washington, DC, explained that the 2017 campaign in New York should give players plenty to cheer about.

“This year the bill not only easily passed the Senate, but also for the first time ever an iPoker bill passed an Assembly committee. This is progress,” the PPA said in a social media post.

Pretlow has been at the forefront of trying to end internet poker prohibition in the Empire State. The Democrat first introduced the topic into his chamber back in 2014, and over the last three years, he’s remain committed to advancing the conversation.

State Sen. John Bonacic (R-Orange County) has led the fight in the New York Senate, with much more success.

His companion bill earlier this month came to a full vote on the Senate floor and easily passed, 53-9. But once delivered to the Assembly to be merged with Pretlow’s bill, it stalled in the Standing Committee on Codes.

A key hurdle was how to deal with “bad actors,” such as PokerStars, a major supporter of the bill, who accepted digital payments from New York customers even after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 prohibited it.

Another roadblock for 2018 is conventional wisdom that has found bills related to gambling tending not to move during election years.

Population Control

Online poker in the US has largely been a bust since 2011. That was the year the Department of Justice issued an opinion that the longstanding Wire Act, which banned most forms of gambling through the transmission of phone lines, applied only to sports betting.

That meant that individual states were free to license and regulate online gaming activities except sports betting. Though the DOJ under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has toyed with the idea of re-evaluating the 2011 opinion, so far efforts to restore the wire act with specific prohibitions on all forms of online gambling have also fallen flat.

But still, only three states have legalized some forms of online gambling, and the relatively small populations of Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware haven’t quite allowed the poker to fully realize its online potential.

New York, however, stood to significantly shake up the online poker landscape, with nearly 20 million residents that could potentially more than double the size of the overall American player pool, while also encouraging other states to move forward with legislation of their own.

Pennsylvania, the fifth most populous state, immediately behind New York, is the next market to watch. The Keystone State is currently considering a comprehensive expansion of gambling and regulatory overhaul, and there legalizing internet poker is a possibility still on the table.