Background on NY sports betting and online poker

The idea of legal and regulated online poker in the state of New York first surfaced in 2013. That’s when the state Senate included licensing fees from the legalization of online poker in its initial state budget projections.

Of course, the measure never made it into the state’s final budget. However, it effectively got state lawmakers talking about the possibility of online poker coming to New York.

Sports betting has also been a topic of conversation in recent years, and discussion picked up in 2018 when the federal ban was struck down by the US Supreme Court, and NY sports betting bills were considered.

Both sports betting and online poker should be considered seriously by the legislature in 2019. Progress could come this winter or spring in the form of inclusion of regulation in the state budget.

One key lawmaker has even said sports betting is more important than online poker in terms of legislative priorities in 2019.

The state technically legalized sports wagering at the state’s four commercial casinos via a ballot measure earlier this decade and a constitutional amendment. However, the state has been unwilling to move forward on regulation without a new law on the books.

2018: Bills don’t reach the finish line

Despite a great deal of chatter on both poker and sports betting, neither was legalized in the state.

While online poker bills were again introduced and considered, they failed to get much traction. The Assembly continued to be wary of moving the bill forward.

The same went for sports betting. Although lawmakers were actively engaged on the subject in the spring, neither chamber ultimately voted on a bill.

All four of the state’s commercial casinos also have sports betting deals in place, should the state decide to move forward in 2019 or beyond.

2017: If at first you don’t succeed

From an online poker perspective, the start of New York’s 2017 legislative session looked a lot like the year before. Sen. Bonacic introduced similar online poker legislation. Assemblyman Pretlow introduced an identical bill to the Assembly. However, something was different.

He had been quick to dismiss its chances in years past. However, Assemblyman Pretlow was suddenly claiming he saw little standing in the way of online poker legislation passing in 2017.

The New York Senate passed the bill by a vote of 54-8 in June. In fact, online poker legislation looked like a good bet to go beyond where it had gone a year earlier. But in the end, it really didn’t.

Assemblyman Pretlow got the bill passed through his Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee, but it died there. New York lawmakers got busy with the issue of mayoral oversight of NYC schools. No more action was taken on online poker before the legislative session ended.

2016: Similar bills, different story

Two bills looking to legalize and regulate online poker were introduced to the state Senate and Assembly again in January 2016. Sen. Bonacic and Assemblyman Pretlow were the politicians behind the bills once again. However, the legislative landscape appeared to be changing in 2016. For the first time, it looked like the online poker bills were going to get a seriously look.

In fact, Sen. Bonacic got the bill passed by the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee after a 9-0 vote. It marked the first time online poker legislation had pushed passed the introduction stage in the state.

The bill headed to the Senate Finance Committee and discussions were expected to continue. Online poker tax revenue made it into the Senate’s budget projections again. In fact, it looked like there was some real momentum behind the bills. However, public comments by Assemblyman Pretlow suggested online poker was a 100 to 1 shot to even hit the floor in the Assembly. Plus, the lack of any real movement since the Senate committee passing dampened hope.

The Senate votes yes

At the end of May 2016, an online poker bill passed was passed by the Senate Finance Committee. It headed to the Senate floor and, in fact, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 53-5. It marked the first time an online poker bill had been passed by any chamber of the New York legislature. However, the same day it passed, Assemblyman Pretlow said the legislative effort was dead. This suggested the Assembly had no plans to even discuss the issue in the 2016 legislative session. It proved true.

The 2016 legislative session ended in June and online poker missed again. However it was a session that saw great strides for online poker legislation. In fact, New York was suddenly being considered a favorite to pass an online poker bill in 2017.

2015: Same bills, different year

The 2014 legislative session ended in New York with zero action on the online poker bills introduced.

The 2015 session kicked off with Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, chair of the Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering, claiming the bills would be re-introduced. However, Assemblyman Pretlow also said the chances the bills would become law, or even reach a vote, were extremely slim.

“Online poker will not happen within the year, but there will probably be hearings,” he said in January 2015.

In fact, there were hearings. However, the 2015 New York legislative session ended the same way it did in 2014, without a vote on the online poker bills introduced to the state Senate and Assembly.

2014: Identical bills surface

In 2014, two identical bills seeking to legalize and regulate online poker in New York surfaced in the state Senate and Assembly.

State Sen. John Bonacic, who chairs the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, introduced the Senate bill. However, he admitted at the time the introduction of the bill was just a way to start having a discussion on the issue. In fact, there was little interest in passing a law right away

“New Yorkers are today spending millions on overseas, illegal gaming sites that have no consumer protections or effective restrictions to keep minors from playing,” Sen. Bonacic said. “I believe we need to start having a discussion on addressing this issue. That is why I have introduced legislation which would regulate online poker here in New York to protect consumers, prevent underage gaming, and combat problem gaming.”


The rules and regulations

The online poker legislation before the state Senate and Assembly sets out a number of rules and regulations which would govern the industry. These may be adjusted before any online poker bill becomes law, but include:

  • Players must be at least 21 years of age and physically located in New York state.
  • Player funds must be held in accounts segregated from the funds of licensees.
  • Safeguards must be implemented to protect player’s privacy, ensure fairness, and stop cheating and collusion.
  • Resources to help problem gamblers must be made available.
  • Up to 11 online poker licenses will be granted to licensed operators of video lottery gaming or commercial casinos in New York or states with similar licensing requirements.
  • Operators will be forced to pay a $10 million fee for a ten-year license. This one-time fee is applied towards future taxes owed for a period of up to five years.
  • Operators will be taxed at a rate of 15 percent on gross gaming revenue.
  • Licensing fees can be applied to taxes owed for the first five years.