Deadlines Approach for Online Poker Bills in Three States

Posted on by Tim Hernandez

Poker Legislation in the U.S.Lawmakers in New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois have days remaining in their respective legislative calendars to pass proposals to regulate online poker.

At the start of the year, proponents of regulated online poker were confident that the “progress” made towards legislation in 2016 would translate into action during 2017. However, with time running out for lawmakers to pass proposals in three north-east states, it looks as if this will be the fourth year in a row where the opportunities to regulate online poker has been wasted.

In addition to New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois, proposals to regulate online gambling have been introduced this year in California, Michigan, Hawaii and Massachusetts. Of the four states, only Massachusetts looks anywhere near being able to pass legislation in the next couple of years, and only then if concerns about the cannibalization of the state lottery can be overcome.

What´s Going on in New York?

A couple of weeks ago, a poker-only bill passed the New York Senate by a majority of 54-8. Although a companion bill was introduced into the Assembly in February, it sat gathering dust until last Friday when it was rushed through the Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee despite lacking the bad actor clause inserted at the eleventh hour by the Senate.

If the bill is to pass before the close of New York´s legislative calendar on Wednesday, it will have to negotiate two more committee´s today (Monday) before going to the full Assembly. The bill´s sponsor has described its chances as slim, and while concerns exist about the financial viability of a poker-only bill and the legal implications of classifying poker as a game of skill, there will probably be significant opposition to it if it ever reaches the Assembly floor.

The Situation in Pennsylvania is Complicated

In Pennsylvania, both legislative chambers have passed significantly differing bills to regulate online gambling. The Senate passed a bill with an exorbitant tax rate that would deter casinos from applying for licenses, while the House passed a more sensible bill that also regulates Video Gaming terminals in bars and clubs – something the brick-and-mortar casinos are also opposed to.

The two chambers have until Friday June 30th to find a compromise or the likelihood is that all bets for regulated online gambling in Pennsylvania will be off and the budget deficit will be filled with increases in personal taxes and the duty charged on cigarettes and alcohol. As an additional spanner in the works, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson is said to be supporting campaigns opposing the regulation of both online gambling and Video Gaming terminals.

Illinois has Even Worse Budget Problems

The deadline for passing new bills supposedly passed in Illinois at the end of May, but the House is currently in “continuous sessions” to try and resolve the state´s budget crisis. Illinois has failed to pass a budget for three years and is teetering on the brink of default – having a stack of unpaid bills rapidly approaching $15 billion and a state retirement system with $129 billion of unfunded liabilities.

Tax revenues from regulated online gambling would barely scratch the surface of Illinois´ debt, but the Senate has passed a bill to regulate both online gambling and DFS. The bill – which is light on detail – could be included among a series of measures to resolve the budget crisis, but seems to be too little, too late when compared to the more substantial budget measures of personal tax and sales levy increases.

Will 2017 be Another Year of “Progress” without Action?

It is looking increasingly likely that 2017 will be the fourth successive year in which bills to regulate online gambling or online poker fail to cross the finishing line. In New York, the deadlines look too tight to meet, and the revenues too small to bust a gut over. In Pennsylvania and Illinois, the revenues don´t look to be enough to resolve their respective crises. However, although the odds are long that any of the three bills will pass, each has a chance and there will likely be more than one twist in the tail before the end of the month.

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