When looking at which states are making the greatest push towards legalized online poker regulation, California is always at the top of the list. For the last few years, they have made numerous attempts at legalizing online poker but have fell short time after time.
Today we take a look at the progress that California has made in 2015, and at the groups that are pushing back in the fight for legalized iPoker. We finally give our predictions on whether their push for legalization will be successful in 2016.
California Making Progress – Slowly
It seems that every year that California makes a small bit of progress towards regulation over the prior year. This year, we finally saw a bill move out of committee and reach the Assembly floor, but it is unlikely to come to a vote. California lawmakers did hold multiple hearings on iPoker this year, another positive step forward.
While there were three bills filed for iPoker in California in 2015, only Adam Gray’s AB 431 was able to move out of committee. The problem is that the bill is merely a shell bill that is unlikely to be completed before the legislative deadline of September 11.
The most positive step forward in the legislative process was the new faction that has formed to forward the cause of online poker in the state. The Morongo tribe had already been partnered with PokerStars and three of the state’s largest cardrooms. Now, the Rincon, Pala and United Auburn tribes have changed course regarding bad actors and PokerStars and have joined together with the “PokerStars Coalition” to help forward iPoker legislation in the state.
PokerStars recently started Citizens for Responsible iPoker, a group that is lobbying for legal online poker in California. As part of their “Let CA Play!” initiative, the group started the PokerStars Pro Tour and has already traveled to 11 casinos to inform citizens and beef up lobbying efforts to legalize online poker in CA.
Pushback Over Key Issues Stalling Process
While California is the state making the most noise in regards to online poker regulation, they are also the state facing the greatest pushback from certain stakeholders. There are two primary issues that have stalled iPoker legislation over the last few years. The first is whether the horse racing industry should be allowed to participate in the regulated marketplace. The other is dreaded bad actor clause, which is primarily targeting the Amaya owned PokerStars.
A group of nine Indian tribes led by Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians is strongly opposed to horse racetrack being allowed a license to operate online poker in California. They claim that they believe it to be an expansion of gambling that citizens have not approved. Many believe that they merely do not want the competition.
The Pechanga Coalition is also the group that is against PokerStars being allowed to operate in California and have been pushing the inclusion of a bad actor clause in any piece of legislation. Other groups have expressed opposition to PokerStars in the past but have recently reversed course following the sale of PokerStars to Amaya Inc. in 2014.
Will be working very hard to help get online poker regulated in California but we really need all your help. Your voice matters #LetCAPlay— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) July 15, 2015
However, there is a glimmer of hope when it comes to the Pechanga’s stance on racetrack participation. The tribe did offer a pair of compromises to the horse racing industry earlier this year. One of the proposals was a revenue sharing deal with the horse racing industry while the other would see racetracks become affiliates of online poker sites rather than operators. The horse racing industry rejected these compromises, but it does show that the Pechanga may be willing to deal. Time will tell.
It is commonly believed that the Pechanga have the political clout to block a vote on a bill that doesn’t meet their demands. Furthermore, California Governor Jerry Brown has vowed to veto any bill that does not address the concerns of the horse racing industry. In essence, iPoker supporters are in a virtual catch 22 situation.
While there are other issues to iron out regarding regulation, these two primary issues are the ones that have stalled the legal process and the ones that will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Chances of California Passing iPoker in 2016? Flip a Coin
Presently, we believe that online poker has about a 50-50 shot of passing in 2016. Other analysts will give you a bleaker view of the state’s chances, but next year could really go either way based on progress made this year.
The latest push by PokerStars and the new pro-iPoker faction in California could result in greater lawmaker support for iPoker and may help to lessen the Pechanga’s ability to block a vote.
Also, the Pechanga have shown a willingness to compromise when it comes to racetrack participation. Further external pressures may force the tribe to examine additional compromises and maybe even a rethink on their bad actor positions.
Basically, if lawmakers and stakeholders can find a way to iron out the two major issues that have blocked regulation in past years, there’s a great chance to see online poker in California in 2016. Otherwise, Pennsylvania or another state will become the fourth state to legalize online poker in the U.S.