New York online poker bill seeks to reclassify activity as game of skill

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: January 19, 2023 01:39 PST

A new measure introduced in New York State will again seek to legalize regulated online poker in the Empire State. Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon/Yonkers) filed Assembly Bill 1380 (A01380) on Tuesday. Pretlow is a long-time champion of online-poker legalization and gambling expansion in general, having sponsored several previous measures in recent years.

Pretlow's latest bill takes aim at New York's current laws that allow certain skill-based forms of gambling but that have been judged to classify poker as predominantly a game of chance. By reclassifying poker as a game of skill and enacting a licensing and framework for online play, Pretlow is again taking up the task of championing the game.

As the chair of New York's Assembly Committee on Public Policy, where A01380 has already been assigned, Pretlow will likely be able to shepherd the measure on for other committees' consideration, and perhaps even a full Assembly vote. An initial hearing on A01380 is scheduled for January 24. Meanwhile, NY State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who has partnered with Pretlow on gambling bills in the past, is expected to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

Whether the bill generates large-scale support remains to be seen. Pretlow willingly shelved earlier online-poker efforts to focus on sports-betting legalization when New York, in 2019, joined numerous other states in rushing toward that market. Online poker was forced to the sideline to ease the sports-betting measure's passage, but in 2023, the time is more ripe. New York is also surrounded by states that have already legalized online poker, adding some impetus to Pretlow's plans.

'Contest of skill' at heart of bill

A01380 would legalize online poker in New York by using the same approach that allowed the state to legalize and regulate daily fantasy sports (DFS) -- by giving it a specific exemption within New York's gambling statues.

"New York courts have interpreted New York law to apply a more rigorous test in identifying a 'contest of chance' than is applied by most states in this nation," Pretlow's bill declares, "and the courts have found that where a contest pits the skill levels of the players against each other, those games are games of skill and not games of chance. Furthermore, the courts have not limited the legislature's ability to determine that certain forms of poker should fall outside the general definition of gambling since those games are games of skill." The measure specifically legalizes Texas hold'em and Omaha while also allowing room for similar poker variants.

A01380 is also specific to "interactive" (online) poker and does not deal it all with New York's long-flourishing underground poker scene. "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," the bill explains.

The bill also calls for a one-time, upfront $10 million application fee to ensure that only the largest and most reputable online operators need apply. There is no requirement that an applying operator must partner with any land-based casino entity to apply, which would free major international operators to pursue licensing in the event Pretlow's bill becomes law.