Bye Bye, Bonacic: Influential NY Senator Will Step Aside This Year

Written By Eric Ramsey on May 8, 2018 - Last Updated on March 11, 2021
people waving in silhouette at sunset

Some of New York’s most-tenured Republican senators are vacating office this year.

Sen. John Bonacic is the most recent to announce his retirement, doing so this week via an e-mail statement.

“I have decided that I will not seek re-election to the New York Senate,” the letter begins. “Next to being called Pat’s husband and Melissa and Scott’s father and a grandfather to three more, serving in the State Senate has been the honor of my life.”

Bonacic’s retirement will end a career of more than 40 years as an elected official in NY. He’s the third GOP senator to announce his exit in recent days, following colleagues John DeFrancisco and Kathleen Marchione out the door. The news creates some alarm for the Senate GOP, clutching onto a one-vote majority with three seats up for grabs this fall.

Bonacic’s career is worthy of a brief review, as he’s been a key supporter of the NY gaming industry during his tenure.

Bonacic on gaming issues

Bonacic sits on a number of NY committees, including the chairman’s position for Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering. That gives him significant input on gaming issues in NY, and he’s been an absolute champion for the industry.

Most notably, Bonacic was the lead sponsor of the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act, which the governor signed into law in 2013. Passage paved the way for the construction of four commercial casinos, and all four have since opened their doors. One of those properties, Resorts World Catskills, is in his own district.

A couple years later, Bonacic successfully pushed for the legalization of NY daily fantasy sports. Both DraftKings and FanDuel occupy office space in New York City, but DFS was temporarily prohibited under an order from attorney general Eric Schneiderman.

Bonacic’s bill provided a mechanism for state oversight, and operations quickly resumed following the governor’s signature. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association personally thanked Bonacic for his efforts, as did the two largest operators.

His gaming to-do list still contains two items, though. Bonacic has filed separate proposals to legalize NY sports betting and online poker, and there’s a good chance one or both will get through during this session. His committee has already passed both bills.

Bonacic’s career in public service

Bonacic represents the 42nd District in the Hudson Valley, which includes parts of Delaware, Green, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties. The senator and his wife make their home in Orange.

The constituents in Bonacic’s diverse district made an impact on him during his career:

I want to thank many people for the opportunity to serve, and am so grateful to them. The fact that someone who grew up in the most urban area of the nation — Hell’s Kitchen — could be welcomed into dairy barns in Delhi, and small businesses in Monticello, and mix with today’s college students at New Paltz, while returning home at night to Orange County and being welcomed there also, is something that is a testament to the people of the 42nd Senate District.

Bonacic was first elected into a vacant Assembly seat in 1990 following a stint as a county official. He was re-elected four times before moving into the Senate in 1998, and he’s defended his seat every two years since. The incumbent senator earned more than 60 percent of his district’s votes in the 2016 election.

During his tenure, Bonacic developed a reputation for managing controversial issues, even when it displeased his own party. In his announcement, he ran through some of his own personal highlights:

  • Sponsored the Women’s Health and Wellness Act
  • Restored Ellenville Hospital and protected other rural clinics
  • Helped facilitate relocation for families in upstate flood areas
  • Secured funding for New York Main Street program

There’s also this:

Partnering with Governor [Andrew] Cuomo, we finally brought casino gaming to Sullivan County. That is something that had been fought for decades, and now it is creating jobs and raising property values.


Bonacic’s personal life

Bonacic is 75 years old, a third-generation descendant of Croatian immigrants.

As the first member of his family to attend college, Bonacic spent much of his lawmaking career supporting issues related to education. He studied Economics in undergrad at Iona University, then entered the Law School at Fordham University. He received his JD in 1968.

Bonacic has two children with his wife of more than 50 years, Pat. The senator’s retirement announcement expressed a desire to focus on family going forward.

The twenty years I have spent in the Senate have been rewarding both personally and professionally, despite the frustrations that all of us experience in any career.

Twenty years, though, is enough, and I look forward to spending quality time with my bride, Pat, and my children and grandchildren. They have been my rock and my inspiration.

Bonacic says he’ll end his career where it began, at home in Orange County with Pat by his side. He closes his statement with a simple, “Thank you.”

Thank you as well, Senator.

Eric Ramsey Avatar
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Eric Ramsey

A New York native, Eric Ramsey serves as a data analyst for PlayNY. He has worked with the site and the entire network of Play-branded sites since 2017. Eric began as a reporter for Legal Sports Report before becoming the managing editor for Online Poker Report. His background is rooted in the poker world, as he formerly wrote for PokerNews and the World Poker Tour. Prior to assuming the data analyst role, Eric regularly reported on the legislative process of states to legalize sports betting. By tracking hundreds of bills across the country, by listening to hours of legislative testimony, Eric has evolved into one of the leading analysts for legal sports betting and gambling in the US. His work has been cited in a number of industry, local and national publications and referenced by scholars and policymakers.

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