New York Online Poker Push Begins All Over Again

Posted on: January 8, 2019, 09:25h. 

Last updated on: January 8, 2019, 01:55h.

Another year and another online poker bill has surfaced in the New York legislature, but this time with a new face. On Monday, State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-15th) pre-filed SB 18 in preparation for the new session, which kicks off on Wednesday in Albany.

New York online poker
State Senator Joseph Addabbo has taken up the online poker mantle in New York, but will sports betting get in the way this year? (Image: The New York State Senate)

Addabbo takes the baton from State Senator John Bonacic (R-42nd), who retired at the end of last year after pushing online poker in vain each year since 2014. But does Addabbo’s bill have what it takes to succeed where others have failed?

Previous bills have done OK in the Senate but have come up short in the Assembly, where they have had an unconventional champion in Assemblyman Gary Pretlow. In 2016, Pretlow questioned whether poker was a game of skill, which was an unusual tactic considering the bill he had put his name to that year sought to legalize online poker by specifically reclassifying it as a game of skill.

Sports Betting More Pressing

This year Pretlow is up to his old tricks. While he said he intends to introduce an online poker bill this year, he confided to OnlinePokerReport that he’d “give up online poker for sports betting” in a flash.

New York nominally legalized sports betting via a 2013 referendum that amended the constitution — but only at the four commercial casinos that were specifically authorized by the referendum.

Additional legislation is required to permit sports betting at racetracks and tribal casinos. This is widely tipped to be resolved during this session and the chances are sports betting, not online poker, will be the focus of the legislature’s gambling expansion efforts in 2019 — although why it can’t manage both is anyone’s guess.

Addabbo thinks it can and has also pre-filed a sports betting bill this year.

Risky Route

Once more, SB 18 seeks to exempt online poker from New York gambling laws by having it declared a game of skill, as opposed to legalizing it through an amendment to the constitution, which would require a public referendum.

The legislature should approach this route with caution, however. This was how it legalized and regulated daily fantasy sports in 2016 — a move that was successfully challenged in court by anti-gambling groups and the status of DFS in New York is now unclear.

Bad Actors Unwelcome

Addabbo’s bill differs from Bonacic’s most recent efforts in that it is strong on “bad actor” language, which could preclude PokerStars from entering a future market. The term bad actor here refers to online poker sites that continued to offer games to US players after the enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (2006) and before the DOJ’s 2011 opinion that the Wire Act does not prohibit online poker.

It is possible that PokerStars could ultimately be deemed suitable for licensing because it has since come under new ownership — as New Jersey regulators agreed in 2016.

A study commissioned in 2015 by MGM Resorts estimated that New York residents are spending $110 million a year at unlicensed online poker sites. The research suggested regulation could boost state coffers by between $50 million and $80 million per year.