New York State iPoker Hearing Could Up Odds of Landing Legal Operations in 2016

August 20th, 2015 | by Jason Reynolds
New York online poker State Senator John Bonacic

All signs point to New York State online poker becoming the fourth state to legalize, and while it won’t happen before year’s end, a September hearing will certainly help its campaign in 2016. (Image:

New York State iPoker will get its day in Albany on September 9th. A hearing has been scheduled by the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee to discuss State Senator John Bonacic‘s (R-District 42) iPoker legislation, and while playing the game on the Internet likely won’t become legal in 2015, the conversation points to increased odds for 2016.

Talking with Gaming Compliance, Bonacic said that the meeting will bring industry professionals and lawmakers together to “have a discussion on the pros and cons of moving the legislation.” The senator introduced two Internet poker legislation bills this year, most recently S05302 in May, an updated proposal that removed “bad actor” language and opened the doors to welcoming PokerStars should the state legalize online poker.

Friends With Benefits

The 73-year-old state senator is also the chairman of the committee for which his legislation will be heard, and over his many years serving the Empire State, Bonacic has become closely aligned with numerous gambling executives.

“I’m bringing in Caesars and MGM plus all of my casinos, racinos and OTBs,” Bonacic boasted.

Who won’t be invited to this gathering is billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. founder who is pushing the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) on the federal level through his political clout. RAWA would essentially outlaw all forms of online gambling, although its likelihood of passage is pretty remote by all accounts.

Though Bonacic is a Republican, he isn’t alone in opposing RAWA. The New York Senate Independent Democratic Conference wrote a letter to Congress last spring that read: “RAWA usurps New York’s ability to determine for itself what forms of gambling are authorized.”

Pretlow on the Totem Pole

Should Bonacic and his colleagues in the senate pass an online poker bill in 2016, the New York Assembly has an iPoker champion of its own by way of Assemblyman Gary Pretlow (D-District 89). Also the chair of his chamber’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, Pretlow is perhaps the most outspoken online poker advocate and RAWA antagonist in America’s fourth most-populated state.

“New York, and every state, deserves to be able to determine what gaming exists within its borders and how it is regulated,” Pretlow wrote in a Roll Call op-ed last month. “We always have had that right and it defies logic that Congress would step in now to undercut it.”

September’s hearing will only further the discussion and hopefully appeal to new political ears. New York is moving slowly on the issue, but appears to be the leading candidate to join Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware in ending iPoker prohibition, along with California, which has had its own foot-dragging issues to contend with in 2015.

Much work will need to be done on Bonacic’s prior legislation. His most recent version included massive $10 million licensing fees and a cap of 10 operators in the Empire State. Unless player liquidity is shared among networks and an interstate compact is reached with New Jersey, New York could struggle to support such a high number of poker platforms.

And maybe that’s why moving slowly isn’t such a bad thing.


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