New York Online Poker Bill Removed from Budget Proposals

New YorkThe momentum to regulate online poker in New York hit the brakes earlier this week when the State Assembly removed online poker from its budget proposals.

If you have been following the progress of Senator John Bonacic´s and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow´s attempts to regulate online poker in New York, you have probably feeling fairly optimistic this might be the year in which legislation is actually passed.

A bill introduced by Senator Bonacic [geolink href=””]unanimously passed the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee[/geolink] last month, and Assemblyman Pretlow confidently predicted [geolink href=””]his companion bill[/geolink] had the support to pass in the Assembly.

Both bills were included in the respective house´s budget proposals, and it seemed a question of “when” rather than “if” legislation would be passed. However, it now appears that Assemblyman Pretlow´s confidence was misplaced, as his bill was stripped from the State Assembly budget on Tuesday night and the debate on online poker put on hold until June.

Skill Factor Still the Major Stumbling Block

The apparent reason for the removal of Assemblyman Pretlow´s bill appears to be concerns over whether or not online poker is a game of skill. Pretlow needs to convince his colleagues in the Assembly that it is a game of skill in order to circumnavigate the state´s anti-gambling laws.

In an interview with Focus Gaming News after the recent set back, Pretlow explained that some in the Assembly were drawing distinctions between tells in live poker and the (alleged) lack of tells in online poker. You can´t read a facial expression [online] he said.

Pretlow believes he will be able to overcome this objection to enable the passage of his bill, but accepts there may still be a legal challenge from anti-gambling campaigners similar to that currently going through the courts following the passage of DFS legislation.  If and when we do this, he said there will definitely be a lawsuit saying it’s unconstitutional.

Financial Concerns Could Delay Progress Further

As well as having to overcome constitutional issues, Pretlow is going to have a job selling the financial benefits of online poker regulation to his colleagues and – more importantly – to New York´s Governor Andrew Cuomo.

As a standalone product, online poker is unlikely to generate a great deal of income for the state. Once the $10 million licensing fees have been collected (and it is doubtful how many poker sites New York can support), the state is unlikely to see much income for the next five years due to the concession of allowing online poker operators to write off their tax liabilities against licensing fees.

During this time the state will incur costs for regulating online poker, and concerns exist that the regulation of online poker may also cannibalize New York´s fledgling brick and mortar casino industry. A statement released earlier this month by Governor Cuomo´s press secretary – Dani Lever – pretty much indicated where the Governor stood on this issue:

We just legalized destination resort casinos with the intent to increase tourism in underserved parts of the state. Any proposal that could potentially impact that would have to be reviewed very carefully.

Too Many Doubts to be Confident about Regulated Online Poker in New York

The bottom line appears to be there are too many doubts about regulated online poker in New York to be confident of any legislation being passed – particularly in the State Assembly. Even Assemblyman Pretlow admits he still has concerns about not being able to prevent collusion online.

The constitutional issue, the financial issue, and the fact that many players appear unconcerned about whether online poker gets regulated or not would tend to suggest that, not only has the momentum to regulate online poker in New York hit the brakes, but it may be difficult to get it moving again.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett