New York: Online poker legalization bill introduced in assembly

A new bill to legalize online poker in New York has been filed in the state legislature. Bill A01380, introduced by Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, seeks to reclassify NY online poker as a game of skill rather than luck. After a first reading, the bill was referred to the Committee on Racing and Wagering.

The bill title reads: “Allows certain interactive poker games to be considered games of skill rather than games of luck; includes definitions, authorization, required safeguards and minimum standards, the scope of licensing review and state tax implications; makes corresponding penal law amendments.”

Unlike other gambling legislation that ties online poker to online casino, Pretlow’s proposal does not call for iGaming legalization in New York. Instead, the bill calls for an amendment to the state’s racing, pari-mutuel wagering and breeding law, and penal law, seeking to add a section that redefines game of skill versus game of chance.

The bill explains that New York law considers “gambling” an activity where an individual risks something of value on the outcome of a contest of chance “not under their control or influence,” looking for something of value in return depending on the outcome. 

Meanwhile, a contest of chance is defined by law as those including events in which the outcome depends “in a material degree” upon an element of chance. While some of these contests may include a certain degree of skill, “the level of skill does not determine the outcome.”

However, the bill argues poker is a type of contest that pits the skill levels of the players against each other, and that New York courts have found the game to be of skill rather than chance. The proposal further points out that poker variants such as Texas Hold’em and Omaha Hold’em are complex games “which involve player strategy and decision-making,” and which pit the skill levels of the players against each other.

“As games of skill, these forms of poker do not fall under the definition of gambling as prohibited by the penal law,” reads the bill, which can be accessed here. A01380 seeks to legalize online poker through a similar approach to the one used to legalize daily fantasy sports (DFS), which is by giving it a specific exemption within the state’s gambling statutes.

The legislature further finds that as the internet has become an integral part of society, and internet poker a  major form of entertainment for many consumers, any interactive gaming enforcement and regulatory structure must begin from the bedrock premise that participation in a lawful and licensed gaming industry is a privilege and not a right, and that regulatory oversight is intended to safeguard the integrity of the games and participants and to ensure accountability and the public trust,” further reads another part of the bill.

The proposal also calls for a one-time, upfront $10 million application fee, which would ensure only the largest online operators apply to conduct the activity. Moreover, it does not require the operators to partner with state land-based casino entities in order to apply, potentially opening the door for major international brands.

Pretlow is a long-time supporter of online poker legalization and gambling expansion in general, having sponsored several previous measures in recent years. In 2018, the Assemblyman said he was giving up online poker in order to legalize New York sports betting. With the market now live – and generating record-setting revenue – he has returned to his online poker efforts.

As the chair of the Committee on Racing and Wagering – where the bill has already been assigned for an initial hearing on January 24 – Pretlow will likely be able to bring the proposal to other committees for consideration, perhaps even reaching a full Assembly vote. Meanwhile, NY State Senator Joseph Addabbo is expected to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

Pretlow’s latest attempt to legalize online poker comes as New York keeps expanding its gaming offering. In addition to launching its online sports betting last year, the Empire State has now moved to make three downstate commercial casino licenses available. Additionally, Senator Addabbo is expected to push for iGaming legalization this year.