Another week brings no big news on the California online poker front. Everyone claims to be working toward a solution, but no word from any of the parties involved keeps poker fans, players, and media in limbo.
In order to get a true picture of the status of California online poker, one has to read between the lines.
News that pertains to entities like PokerStars and the Bicycle Casino can be disseminated to give some hints as to what may happen in California. For now, it remains categorized as speculation.
With that said, a looming deadline on the California Legislative Calendar, a tournament coming through the Bicycle Casino, and hints at a fast-moving finalization of the Rational Group / Amaya Gaming deal give some insight as to what factors may influence the online poker bills.
In the end, however, someone has to make a move. One of the pertinent parties has to bet, raise, or fold at some point.
Deadline for Poker Bills Less than Two Months Away
Technically, the first deadline for the California legislature to pass either of the online poker bills passed on May 30, 2014. Of the two pending bills, neither moved an inch when that date came and went. There are ways to pursue a bill after that date, such as by replacing a bill with a newly drafted one by the same legislator.
The other date is August 31, 2014, and that deadline is non-negotiable. As the law states, August 31 is the “last day for each house to pass bills.”
If nothing happens by that date, both pending bills are dead. They will need to be redrafted and reintroduced in 2015. Whether supporters and current bill sponsors State Senator Lou Correa and State Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer are up for the task remains to be seen.
In fact, it all remains to be seen. The bills currently collecting dust in the legislature could begin moving at any time. And as pointed out here, time is ‘a tickin’.
Amaya Might Move Quickly to Finalize Rational Group Deal
When Amaya Gaming announced its acquisition of the Rational Group, including PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, last month, there was a wide window for the finalization. The deadline was set for the end of September 2014, as financing had to be secured, the Scheinbergs had to step down, and other pieces had to fall in place before all was said and done.
However, numerous reasons have arisen that could put the deal on a faster timeline.
First, PokerStars wants its place in New Jersey, and New Jersey wants PokerStars. Within days after the deal was announced, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement revealed that it was looking forward to examining the developments.
Even State Senator Raymond Lesniak recently commented that he’s anxious for PokerStars to take a place in the state’s online gaming market. With a seasonal decline and other factors causing the state’s online gaming revenue to dip, there is no better time than the present to push things forward.
Now that PokerStars is under the Amaya Gaming umbrella, or soon to be so, the DGE only needs to review the Amaya Gaming license and made adjustments for the PokerStars addition. “The PokerStars acquisition becomes part of the ongoing Amaya licensing process and is reviewed for suitability by the Division like any other significant transaction by a CSIE or Casino Entity licensee,” said a DGE representative. This could happen quickly.
Second, the UK may be quite a distance away, but the upcoming licensing process for online gaming in the UK may prompt Amaya Gaming to speed up its acquisition. Per the newly enacted laws, the UK Gambling Commission is requiring all companies wanting to operate in the UK to have obtained a license by October 1. Applications must be submitted by September 16.
If Amaya sticks to its original timeline of completing the acquisition at the end of September, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Amaya Gaming will need to obtain licenses individually in the UK. And when the merger is complete, Amaya will have to submit paperwork to change the licenses, and there may be a break in operations while the changes are approved by the UKGC. This will result in downtime for players and operators, and the lack of revenue would be significant.
The benefits of Amaya and Rational Group finalizing their deal prior to mid-September are great. The sooner the acquisition is complete, the sooner New Jersey can give its approval for PokerStars and the UKGC can begin processing the operating license for the UK market.
What does this mean for California?
The “bad actors” of PokerStars, namely the Scheinbergs, will be gone from the company, and the new management of Amaya (not a bad actor) will be ready to make a case for entry to California. By finalizing the deal as soon as possible and pleading a case to California legislators and tribes, there is hope that one of the bills could be amended, resubmitted, and pushed through the state legislature before the August 31 deadline.
Live Poker Moves On in California
The Bicycle Casino is one of the entities that partnered with PokerStars prior to its deal with Amaya. Live poker at “the Bike” continues to thrive with numerous tournament series headed its way.
The Summer Poker Series started on June 19 and runs through July 15. Other tours will head there later in the summer, like the World Poker Tour for its annual Legends of Poker festival, as well as the Card Player Poker Tour. And fellow PokerStars partner Commerce Casino will be hosting the Heartland Poker Tour later this year.
On the other side of the aisle, “bad actor” clause supporters will also be hosting some poker tournaments. The Heartland Poker Tour will be hosting an August/September series at Agua Caliente, and Pechanga will offer a Summer Spectacular poker series in July.
Poker is a big part of California, and there is a very large group of poker players in the state who would be happy to begin playing online poker again. Live tournaments would benefit from online poker satellites, and California would again be a hub for poker of all kinds.
The legislators must decide in the coming weeks if they want to take advantage of their prominence in live poker and its possible translation into online poker success … or not.