California Online Poker Bills Won’t Pass Go in 2014

Posted on August 11th, 2014 by Daniel Ryder
Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer

California Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer says he will introduce a revised online poker bill for the Golden State come December. (Image: sacbee.com)

California online poker seems like a no-brainer: the state has over 38 million residents, making it a larger market than Canada, and there is already a thriving gaming industry that has the expertise necessary to run and market the sites. But despite all of these reasons why Internet gambling should be a natural fit for the Golden State, there won’t be any California online poker this year.

That’s because the two state legislators behind the bills that would legalize and regulate online poker in California have said that there isn’t enough time to get those bills passed this year. Last week, State Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) announced that his bill, SB 1366, would be shelved for the year. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) told PokerNews that there was not enough time for his bill to move through the legislature during the current session.

Correa Serving Final Term

Of the two bills, Correa’s was the one that appeared to have garnered more attention this year. And it was Correa’s last chance to pass an Internet poker bill as a state legislator: because of term limits, he cannot run for office again. Still, even with that deadline facing him, Correa wasn’t prepared to try and rush through a bill at the last minute.

“Internet poker is an important public policy,”said the senator. “We need to make sure it’s done right.”

Jones-Sawyer agreed that there was not enough time to pass a bill this year. However, the assemblyman said that he’ll be back with a new bill when the next legislative session begins in December.

Consensus Difficult for Gaming Interests

While the pressures of an election year and the ongoing campaign by Sheldon Adelson to stop the spread of online gambling may have played roles in killing the bills this year, those do not appear to be the decisive factors. Instead, a battle over exactly what would be included in such a bill has sharply divided many of California’s major gaming interests. And while progress has been made towards creating a broader consensus, there is still work to be done before the industry can rally behind a single bill.

One of the major stumbling blocks is the fight over whether California’s online poker marketplace should allow “bad actors” to participate. A “bad actor” clause would likely shut out PokerStars, and that means that their allies (which include major players like the Morongo Band of Mission Indians along with the Commerce Club and Bicycle Casino) oppose such language. PokerStars recent purchase by Amaya, Inc. and the stepping down of founders Mark and Isai Scheinberg from any association with the brand could, however, be a game-changer in that regard.

Meanwhile, coalitions of Indian tribes and card rooms have argued in favor of such a rule. In addition, some tribes are asking horse tracks to be excluded from any online poker market. That, in turn, has angered the racing industry, which would oppose any bill that leaves them out in the cold.

But despite these divisions, many officials believe that all sides are getting closer to an agreement. That may just take some time, which is why many tribes believe that putting online poker on the shelf until next year may be the safer play in the long run.

“Our tribal leaders have concluded that rushing a bill in the closing days of this legislative session will not allow for the level of careful public examination and confidence an issue of this magnitude requires,” said a coalition of 13 tribes in a joint statement. “We look forward to continuing the work with legislators, regulators, and stakeholders on a bill that can be brought before the Legislature in 2015.”

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