Online Poker Legislative Year-End Recap: What Flew, What Crashed

Posted on December 28th, 2015 by Alana Markoff
Sheldon Adelson online poker

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson tried to persuade Washington politicians into supporting a total ban on Internet gaming, but online poker legislation continued to be authored by state lawmakers in 2015. (Image: Mike Segar/Reuters)

The online poker legislative calendar in 2015 was noticeably active over the last 12 months, elected lawmakers turning to Internet casinos to avoid raising taxes on citizens as budgets continue to inflate while revenues continue to shrink.

California and Pennsylvania, two states that considered passing Internet poker bills, are also two of the most populated in America, number one and sixth respectively.

The Golden and Keystone states are also struggling financially, mounting pensions sending lawmakers in Sacramento and Harrisburg scurrying for new sources of revenue.

Gambling is inherently a controversial topic, but when it comes to unpopular politics, few items are more despised than raising taxes.

That’s led to Internet casinos gaining favor with demographics that might not have typically supported the expansion of the casino business.

State of Play

California: Should the Golden State legalize online poker in the near future, the consequences could provide the Hollywood ending the market so desperately seeks. The main barrier stopping a thriving iPoker market in the United States is ample player pools, the isolated nature of a single state authorizing online play preventing adequate numbers.

Assemblymen Mike Gatto (D-District 43), Adam Gray (D-District 21), and Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-District 59) all authored proposals to legalize Internet poker in 2015, and all three failed.

The complicated relationships between Sacramento and horse racetracks paired with the contentious tribal and political discourse makes passing any law that could potentially reduce the Native American’s casino monopoly difficult to nearly impossible.

And that’s the rather unfortunate reality for proponents of online poker in California.

Pennsylvania: The Keystone State is another key region poker advocates have their sights on, the concept rapidly growing in popularity last fall as the Republican legislature and Democrat Governor Tom Wolf sparred off in long and intense budget debates.

State Rep. John Payne (R-District 106) is leading the efforts and believes it’s only a matter of time until Pennsylvanians are permitted to play poker on their computers and mobile devices.

With its neighbors New Jersey and Delaware already in the game, an interstate compact could make sense to bring residents from all three jurisdictions to the same virtual tables.

New York: The Empire State also examined online poker this past year, State Senator John Bonacic (R-District 42) holding a hearing on his iPoker bill in the fall of 2015. Unfortunately, his colleagues had little interest in attending.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was also the first prosecutor to open a formal investigation into daily fantasy sports (DFS), and US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara quickly followed suit.

Most remember Bharara as the lead architect of poker’s Black Friday in 2011 when the Department of Justice seized PokerStars and Full Tilt.

Like California, New York seems to be a rather longshot for iPoker in 2016.

DFS and Online Poker

The emergence of daily fantasy sports and the controversy surrounding the contests could hurt online poker’s chances of expanding to new states in 2016. The loud discussion on DFS puts Internet gambling and wagering front and center in American politics.

Of course, a heightened debate on Internet gaming could pay off in the long run, but as of now the media is largely presenting the discussion in a negative light.

Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson will likely use the DFS fiasco to further the Restoration of America’s Wire Act and encourage federal congresspersons to support an all-out ban on Internet betting.

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