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There was much excitement in the first three months of 2016 about the progress of online poker legislation in the United States. Several states were showing progress, and it looked as if another state might finally join New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware in the little American online poker industry.

Even though March showed slowdowns for several states, New York made moves and PokerStars launched in New Jersey. Hope lived, albeit in a semi-comatose state

April wasn’t looking good at the start. But just when this recap was set up to be a complete dud with nothing of excitement to report, Michigan came out of nowhere with an online gaming bill. And California awoke from that coma with some hope in the form of a hearing. Let’s get to the details.


Most analysts didn’t see this one coming.

Michigan State Senator Mike Kowall introduced a bill called the Lawful Internet Gaming Act (SB 889) on April 14. The purpose of the legislation is to establish a legalized online gaming industry for the state, which will be regulated by the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

The bill seeks to regulate online poker and games of chance, which will protect state residents and “capture revenues and create jobs generated from Internet gaming.” The wording goes on to say that a “secure, responsible fair, and legal system of Internet gaming” complies with the “United States Department of Justice’s September 2011 opinion” regarding the Wire Act.

The state already offers casino resorts, tribal casinos, and a longstanding state lottery that went online last year. The Gaming Control Board would issue licenses to no more than eight land-based entities that apply, pass the investigation process, and pay the $5 million licensing fee. Michigan will then also benefit from a 10% tax on gross gaming revenue from those gaming sites.

SB 889 is now in the hands of the Committee on Regulatory Reform, of which Kowall is a member. There has yet to be a committee hearing date set, but there is time to do so before the summer recess.


This is an interesting case.

The Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma is going to launch an online poker site. PokerTribe-dot-org will offer real-money online poker for international customers and those in states that have legalized online poker – New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware. The plan is to launch by August 1 of this year.

The tribe has been pushing for the right to launch this site for quite some time under the notion that tribal rights for sovereign gaming extend to the Internet. Talks have been underway with Oklahoma gaming officials and finally included an arbitrator assigned by the court. The arbitration ruling gives the tribe the authority to launch and operate the site, which does not violate the current compact between the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma and the state of Oklahoma.

Details remain sketchy as to who might be developing the software or regulating the activities, as well as how international players will be drawn to the site. In addition, the gaming regulators in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware may take issue with the lack of interstate gaming agreements to access players within their borders.

But the tribe has shown nothing but determination to move forward with its online poker site. The next few months of activity will give a better indication of the tribe’s ability – or lack thereof – to launch the site.



This state has been a roller coaster of ups and downs for years with regard to online poker. Fans have been seeing efforts start and fail since 2009.

This year led off with hopes of progress as special interests were closer than ever to finding common ground. And the bill introduced in February to offer a $60 million payment to placate the horse racing industry found support from numerous tribes and card rooms, including those involved in the PokerStars coalition. But then no word came from California in March … about anything.

April started with negative news coming from California, as some of the tribal leaders had concerns when official charges were brought against Amaya CEO David Baazov by Quebec’s AMF with regard to an insider trading investigation.

californians for ipoker

But on April 12, the tone changed as word came about a hearing regarding Assemblyman Adam Gray’s online poker bill before the end of the month. The PokerStars coalition sent a letter to Gray in support of his AB 2863 bill, erasing rumors that there was distress in the group. Following that, a more important letter of support came from a group of nine leaders of the California horse racing industry, expressing general approval of the $60 million annual payment with only a few minor changes requested.

By this time, the hearing for AB 2863 was scheduled for the Assembly Governmental Oversight Committee on April 27. Gray, who is also the chairman of the committee, started said hearing by explaining why the bill is necessary, though he noted that the bad actor clause was still a point of contention. Others at the hearing in support of the bill included Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, PPA Executive Director John Pappas, and Morongo Chairman Robert Martin. Despite some questions about certain provisions of the bill, opposition by tribes like Pechanga, and testimony from the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, the bill ultimately went for a vote by the 18 members and passed unanimously.


AB 2863 can now go to the Assembly for discussion and possibly a vote. However, it is unclear as to how Gray will proceed with it, especially considering the vague language about bad actors and the differences of opinion of many of the tribes to be impacted.

Even though many good things happened in April, the bill is still in wait-and-see mode. More meetings behind closed doors are likely scheduled, and all eyes are on Gray to see what happens next.

New York

Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow and Senator John Bonacic started the year with their online poker bills as they had in past years, and even though the S5302 made it all the way into the Senate’s budget bill, it was removed at the end of March.

The news got worse in April as Pretlow attended the 2016 iGaming North America conference in Las Vegas. His presence on a panel about the legislation of online poker was positive and confirmed his dedication to the issue, but he ended up saying that the bill had a 1,000-to-1 chance of making it to the floor of the legislature for a vote this year.

So, that’s not good.


A third month has gone by with no sign of progress for online poker in Pennsylvania. The last we heard from State Representative John Payne was that he was pushing for approval of his HB 649 by the middle of the summer.

Payne is still encouraging fellow legislators to consider online poker as a partial solution to revenue shortfalls and trying to get HB 649 included in a budget bill. It is still an active piece of legislation, and Pennsylvania remains the best bet, according to some, to pass a bill this year.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.