Despite the popularity of online poker in the United States and around the world, online poker exists in a legal gray area. Internationally, the trend has been toward the tax-and-regulate approach, but the country has been slow to come around to this idea. There are, however, signs that regulation and recognition are coming soon at the state level. One of the latest efforts is a bill that would regulate poker as a game of skill passed the New York State Senate Finance Committee and may be voted on by the entire Senate.
The bill, entitled “US.-Online poker Bill S-3898” was recently referred to the Senate Floor following its approval in committee. The proposed measure treats popular variations of poker, such as Texas Hold’em and Omaha Hold’em, as legal games of skill and not prohibited forms of gambling. The bill is one of the first such measures to be proposed nationwide.
The proposal was originally conceived in 2016 and passed the Senate. However, it failed to even make it to the floor of the Assembly as the Chair of the Racing and Wagering Committee, J. Gary Pretlow, took it off of the agenda. The bill has been re-introduced in the Senate in 2017 and there is some hopefulness that it could pass this time.
Nonetheless, getting the poker bill through the Assembly will be no small feat. According to one journalist, who commented on the bill on Twitter, Assemblyman Pretlow continues to express reservations about the measure and the expansion of gaming in the state. Pretlow, a Democrat who has represented Mount Vernon since 1992, argues that while the promise of gambling revenues will make online poker an easy sell, there are still many political hurdles to clear. The measure would have to gain the approval of several committees in the Assembly before making it to the floor, and even then its passage would be far from guaranteed.
However, proponents have made some headway with opponents. Pretlow now believes that poker can be reasonably viewed as a game of skill, but has expressed reservations about how much online gambling is a game of skill versus in-person play. In addition, Pretlow believes that whatever legislation is passed, it will be impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of collusion.
The proposed law includes a number of provisions dealing with fraudulent transactions, gambling addiction, and underage gambling. The state would receive a 15% cut of each company’s gross revenue, which would be a huge selling point to cash-strapped New York. New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, have all legalized online poker.