Although a glimmer of hope remains for at least one state to pass online poker legislation this year, the second quarter of 2017 was particularly gloomy.
Back in March, I wrote a Q1 review of online poker regulation in the U.S. In it I stated the first quarter of the year had yielded more obstacles than solutions. However, at the time, there was cause for optimism that one or more states would pass legislation to regulate online poker. Three months later, and that optimism has all but evaporated.
Most states that flirted with online poker or online gambling legislation have finished their legislative calendars for the year. Those still in session are trying to resolve budgetary issues that may or may not ultimately include online gambling. There is still a glimmer of hope for at least one state to pass online poker legislation this year – but it is a rapidly diminishing glimmer.
Confidence Counts for Nothing in New York
Despite Assemblyman Gary Pretlow being confident New York´s Assembly would no longer be a hurdle for the passage of online poker regulation, New York´s Assembly was again the hurdle for the passage of online poker regulation. Pretlow´s cause wasn´t helped by the eleventh-hour introduction of a bad actor clause in the Senate version of the bill, but he is confident the progress made this year will translate into action on 2018.
By 2018, the constitutional issue of whether the state has the right to reclassify DFS and poker as games of skill may have been resolved, but concerns will likely still exist about online poker cannibalizing New York´s fledgling brick-and-mortar casino industry. The concerns are led by Governor Cuomo, who despite giving last year´s DFS bill the green light, vetoed a bill earlier this year that would allow charities to sell lottery tickets online.
Casinos Pulling the Strings in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is one of the states in which there is still a glimmer of hope for online gambling regulation, but nobody knows what form that will take. Both the Senate and the House have passed gambling expansion bills, but they are widely different in their content – the Senate´s version proposing unworkable tax rates on online gambling, the House´s version including the regulation of Video Gaming Terminals.
Most of Pennsylvania´s brick-and-mortar casinos are opposed to the regulation of Video Gaming Terminals because they won´t get a slice of the action. They have lobbied against their inclusion in any expansion of gaming – despite there being an estimated 40,000 terminals operating illegally throughout the state – and, if they get their way, the proposals to regulate online gambling in Pennsylvania will be put on ice for another year.
Will Online Gambling Revenues Tempt Illinois?
Illinois arrived late on the scene in its attempts to pass online gambling regulation – the Senate passing a joint online gambling and DFS bill at the end of May. The fast action on the proposals was prompted by a massive budget crisis that could see the state default on billions of dollars of debt. However, the House – and particularly House Speaker Mike Madigan – does not appear that keen on an expansion of online gambling, despite the projected $100 million-plus the bill would raise in license fees.
There was supposed to be a hearing of the House Executive Committee last week to discuss the merits of online gambling among other issues. The committee hearing went ahead, but the “other issues” took precedence and those attending the hearing to offer their words of support for the regulation of online gambling in Illinois eventually gave up and went home. Another state with a glimmer of hope, but one in which political stupidity will likely win the day.
What Happened Everywhere Else?
Elsewhere, there has been plenty of activity but little to write home about. Senator Mike Kowall´s
cautious optimism about regulated online gambling in Michigan amounted to nothing, while Massachusetts Senator Bruce Tarr´s shell bill
An Act Relative to Gaming remained just that – a shell. In Hawaii, Senator Will Espero´s proposals to regulate online gambling remained a long shot throughout the legislative calendar and were eventually dropped, and although Senator Louise Lucas´ bill to reclassify poker as a game of skill in Virginia made it through the Senate, it has gathered dust in the House General Laws Sub-Committee since February.
Over in New Hampshire, I got quite excited by the
tell it as it is language of Representative Eric Schleien´s proposals to allow online gambling and, although I was about the only person excited by them, the state did take a step towards regulation with the passage of an online lottery bill. New Hampshire could well be a state that surprises us in 2018. Finally, if you were wondering what has happened in respect of online gambling regulation in California, there was a bill introduced in February, it failed to resolve any of the issues from the previous year, and it has been conveniently ignored by the legislature. As OnlinePokerReport´s Robert DellaFave put it:
I give CA a lot of credit for not even bothering to try this year. Spares us the seemingly inevitable and crushing disappointment.
— Robert DellaFave (@RobertDellaFave) June 28, 2017
In conclusion, it has been an interesting three months since the last review – full of twists and turns, games of politics and false optimism. There is still a glimmer of hope that either Pennsylvania or Illinois will pass legislation to regulate online gambling in their respective states, but it is just a glimmer, and one that may well be extinguished in the next couple of weeks.