Until February 25, the only good news that came from the online poker world regarding legislation was in California. All interested parties may have come up with one bill that meets everyone’s needs and could actually go to the legislature for voting. Even that may require more adjusting and amending before the bill is ready.
And then, on the day of the Global Poker League draft and hours before the American Poker Awards, PokerStars dropped the news: Amaya announced a launch date for New Jersey online poker players. March 21, it is.
Let’s get to all of the February online poker legal and legislative news.
PokerStars announced its return to the United States market. The official launch date is for March 21, though select players will be invited to participate in the test period and beta launch of the New Jersey site before that official kickoff for all of New Jersey’s players.
The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement completed its investigation last year and gave word that PokerStars was authorized to enter the state’s gaming industry. With that, the process began in late September to prepare the site for the small, regulated market.
How does this pertain to US online poker legislation?
It serves as a possible incentive for other states to join the trio that now offers online poker. The in-depth and incredibly thorough vetting of PokerStars by the DGE shows that Amaya is prepared to abide by the letter of the US law, as well as to bring more players to the burgeoning industry. State legislators from around the country may not see the actual numbers to back up the power of PokerStars until the first few months of operation in New Jersey are under its belt, but most analysts agree that a market that includes PokerStars is a potentially powerful one.
When January ended, poker advocates in California were a bit dismayed that Assemblyman Adam Gray pushed the pending online poker bill – Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer’s AB 167 – out of the way so that a daily fantasy sports bill could be pushed through the hearing process. Everyone from the Poker Players Alliance to the California Nations Indian Gaming Association expressed concern that DFS was moving along while online poker was left in the dust.
Then, things changed … quickly. Gray filed a new online poker bill, AB 431, which changed the nature of the conversation entirely. It proposed a subsidy for the horse racing industry in order to placate the biggest and most outspoken opponent of Internet poker regulation. The price tag? $60 million.
Poker Update simplified the bill in this article, as everything seemed to be moving quickly. To bring us up to date, Gray filed yet another bill that detailed everything regarding the subsidy and new regulation details. AB 2863 is the bill.
The latest update shows that a significant number of Indian tribes have endorsed the latest legislation. Gray did get the bill introduced before the mid-February deadline, but it is now up to him to arrange a hearing. He is likely waiting to get the final approval of the California horse racing industry before pushing the bill, as it may then have more than ample support to push it through the legislature.
Keep your eyes focused on California this month, as negotiations are ongoing and could result in a serious push for California online poker sooner rather than later.
There has been no news from the state of Pennsylvania. Zip. Nada. Legislators and pundits alike were silent about online poker in February.
The last big move for State Representative John Payne’s HB 649 was in December of 2015, when the bill passed the House Gaming Oversight Committee by a vote of 18-8. He did reiterate in January that his legislation for legalized and regulated Internet poker would offer a solid revenue solution for Pennsylvania, but there has been no word from Payne or the House, where the bill sits, since then.
However, it may not be long before the issue takes flight again. With the PokerStars entry to the New Jersey market coming in mid-March, it might reignite interest.
When we left New York at the end of January, there was a Senate hearing scheduled for February 2 to discuss current online poker legislation. The Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee was set to hear testimony from supporters and detractors, and the poker industry hoped for a vote.
And it passed! A unanimous vote indicated that online poker had gained some ground in New York, and the next steps were up to Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, author of A9049, and State Senator John Bonacic, author of S5302.
This is the most progress that Internet poker has made in New York in several years of bills. Now, we wait to see if the legislators behind the bills will push the issue forward in any meaningful way.
And now for the bad news. The online poker bill in the state of Washington is dead. Kaput. Out.
No one expressed much hope for HB 1114, and they were correct. The bill is dead, and another effort falls by the wayside. Online poker remains a felony crime in Washington.
The court case involving PokerStars is back in the news.
You might remember that in December, the Kentucky lawsuit against PokerStars reemerged due to the PPA’s motion filed to join the lawsuit against PokerStars so that if Kentucky won, any money would go to poker players instead of the state. PokerStars actually supported that motion but believed the suit was without merit.
Keep in mind that this case began more than five years ago when Kentucky decided they wanted damages due to PokerStars’ offerings of online poker between 2006 and 2011.
The circuit court judge then ruled that PokerStars owed $870 million in damages. PokerStars’ parent, Amaya, immediately vowed to appeal.
On February 22, Amaya did announce that appeal. Amaya had to post bond to stay the order of enforcement during the appeals process, which consisted of $35 million cash collateral and another $30 million in letters of credit.
That spurred another legal fight. When Amaya purchased PokerStars under the Rational Group umbrella, Rational was required to establish an escrow fund to cover any potential legal expenses. Said escrow account was set up, but the money in it is now in the middle of a dispute between Amaya and the former Rational Group owners. The total amount said to be in dispute is $300 million.
Meanwhile, Amaya CEO David Baazov decided he wanted to buy the company for $2 billion, taking it off of the public market and into the private business sector.
Suffice it to say, there is a lot going on at Amaya these days.