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Are California lawmakers serious about finally passing online poker legislation in 2016?

The answer appears to be a resounding YES considering that a hearing on Internet poker regulation is scheduled for January 6 – in the first week of the new year! That comes as welcome news to ipoker proponents who have begun many years past with optimism, but have repeatedly found themselves ringing in another new year without California as a regulated igaming state.

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However, there appears to be something different about 2016. Perhaps it has to do with taking a peek at the website of the California State Assembly’s Committee on Governmental Organization and seeing the word “Urgency” next to the online poker bill that lawmakers are set to consider this coming Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

AB 167

That bill is AB 167, introduced by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer one year ago, and would permit California to regulate intrastate online poker. Jones-Sawyer has picked up the Internet poker torch dropped by Sen. Rod Wright after the latter was convicted of fraud and perjury in 2014.

AB 167 would allow the state’s horse racing industry, as well as card rooms and Indian tribes, to operate online poker sites. Those who have been following the Golden State’s attempts at regulating ipoker in years gone by know that full participation by the racetracks has been a point of contention among some tribes.

Jones-Sawyer’s measure also contains no bad actor language, which could enable entities such as PokerStars to legally plaster a red spade upon a poker site in tandem with the card clubs and tribes to which they have previously partnered. That issue, too, has ruffled a few feathers in the headdresses of several other of the state’s powerful tribes.

One has to wonder if perhaps some compromise has been reached behind closed doors following the end of the California legislature’s 2015 session. Or is the bill’s placement for a hearing (under an urgent classification) at a time when people are still wishing each other a Happy New Year merely a desire to get the parties involved talking again? We will likely know more following the hearing.

Other Bills to be Considered

Along with AB 167, three more gaming bills will get a look-see by committee members on January 6. All three have been introduced by committee chairman Adam Gray.

The two most noteworthy are AB 1441 and AB 1437, which would regulate sports betting and daily fantasy sports (DFS), respectively. The legality of DFS has come under scrutiny in a number of other states, and some state legislatures that have been active in discussing online poker and gambling regulation – namely, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts – have been considering DFS as well.

Bottom Line

There is considerable reason for optimism that California legislators are beginning 2016 with an igaming hearing right out of the gate. Those of us who look at the world with rose-colored glasses see it as an indication that this may finally be the year that California joins Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey in the regulated ipoker space.

Pessimists can certainly point to California’s track record and warn us to temper our excitement. But it’s a new year and a new beginning, one filled with promise and hope! I’d rather look at the positive than dwell on the negative.

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Charles Rettmuller

Charles has been an avid poker player for a number of years, both live and online. He holds a degree in journalism and previously worked as a reporter for a Chicago-based newspaper. Charles joined the PokerUpdate team in early 2012 and writes daily news articles for the site.