The news that online poker expansion is officially off the table for 2014 came as a crushing blow to advocates of expanded online gambling in California, dashing the hopes of many people who felt 2014 was the year.
Still, if we’ve learned one thing from California, it’s that they will give it a try once again in 2015. Rumors have already started to fly that another online poker bill will be introduced at the start of the next legislative session this December by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer.
In true Sisyphus fashion, the state will pick up their rock from the bottom of the hill and once again try to roll it up the mountain in 2015 – even after failed attempts in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.
A new online poker bill before the end of the year wasn’t the only good news on the online poker front either, as amid all of the sullenness surrounding the death of the 2014 bills, the second annual iGaming Legislative Symposium has already been scheduled for February 2015.
The Symposium is an important forum for California’s varied interests to be heard and make their cases.
So, while California’s online poker dreams have been dashed for 2014, the fight is certainly not over, and the state is looking to capitalize on the momentum gained in 2014, with California seeing advancement on several contentious issues, including near consensuses on licensing costs and number of sites per operator.
However, several major wedge issues still remain to be resolved:
- The fate of PokerStars and Bad Actor / Tainted Asset clauses
- The inclusion / exclusion of race tracks and in what capacity they might be involved
- A potential new revenue sharing deal with smaller tribes
- Licensing requirements, particularly towards small card rooms and small tribes
Hopefully the proposed Jones-Sawyer bill expected in December touches on all of these issues, and if not, perhaps the iGaming Legislative Symposium or more hearings in the legislature will provide the public platform needed to bring about a compromise.
The original Jones-Sawyer bill
The best way to get a feel for what the Jones-Sawyer bill of 2015 might look like is to look back at Jones-Sawyer bill (version 1.0) from 2014.
Known as AB 2291, Jones-Sawyer’s Assembly bill was an extremely tribe-friendly piece of legislation that essentially sought to keep all of the gaming income in California – land-based and online – firmly in the hands of the major tribes and a few major card rooms.
The bill was meant to offer an alternative to the reincarnated Senate bill introduced by Senator Lou Correa, as well as to replace the proposed online poker legislation of disgraced Assemblyman Roderick Wright, who was the former online poker darling of the California Assembly.
Senator Lou Correa’s bill seemed more sophisticated and nuanced than the Jones-Sawyer bill (which shouldn’t be surprising considering Correa’s bill has been kicking around for a couple years) and while the two bills were quite similar they did have some differences.
AB 2291 would have done the following:
- Authorize intrastate online poker and disallow interstate compacts
- Create 10-year, non-transferable licenses, with an upfront $5 million fee
- Preemptively ban the state from adopting or opting into a federal online gambling bill
AB 2291 also featured exclusive licensing, requiring licensees to be federally recognized tribes as well as card-rooms, and requiring them to have five years experience in brick & mortar poker. As noted above, this bill favored California’s power players.
The major differences between the bills was that AB 2291 allowed for unlimited domain names and was not specific about its Bad Actor clause, whereas SB 1366 called for a permanent ban on sites that operated in the US post December 31, 2006.
The Jones-Sawyer bill also contained far more vagaries, especially when it came to its Bad Actor language. The bill did contain Bad Actor language but left the preclusion period blank, which seemed to indicate a willingness to modify that part of the bill based on the overall consensus.
Overall, the Jones-Sawyer bill of 2014 seemed like a placeholder, designed to counter SB 1366’s more contentious aspects.
Whether the planned Jones-Sawyer online poker bill of 2015 will be more specific, or if the Assemblyman will simply reintroduce a more or less unchanged version of his 2014 bill is unknown at this time, but some changes will likely be made due to the changing climate.
The bill will likely include the newly agreed upon licensing details, and will almost certainly still explicitly exclude race tracks.
What if any Bad Actor language will be included is a complete unknown at this point as well, but considering the tribes that backed the original Jones-Sawyer bill (most notably the Agua Caliente and Pechanga tribes) are part of the coalition of 13 tribes that called for barring PokerStars.
What is known is that any Bad Actor clauses included in the bill will have to be very specific, as this is the major issue at hand in California, and this has advanced a great deal since Jones-Sawyer 2014 was first introduced.
The final aspect the bill will potentially have to address is a new revenue sharing deal between the tribes. It’s my belief that this will not be addressed in the first drafts of California’s 2015 bills.
iGaming Legislative Symposium
Along with the proposed Jones-Sawyer bill, Californians in favor of online poker expansion can also pencil in February 26, 2015 as an important date on their calendars, as Pechanga.net and the Spectrum Gaming Group will host the second annual iGaming Legislative Symposium.
Considering the number of issues that still need to be worked out in California these types of forums, along with the hearings in the legislature are extremely necessary.
Here is the complete press release detailing the February Symposium.
SACRAMENTO, CA — (Marketwired) — 08/07/14 — Pechanga.net and Spectrum Gaming Group will host the second annual iGaming Legislative Symposium February 26, 2015, at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel. Attendees will include state legislators, gaming regulators, tribal and commercial gaming operators, and Internet gaming experts from around the world.
Building on the momentum of the inaugural 2014 conference, the symposium will continue to examine the critical issues regarding the legalization of online gaming in California as well as other states.
“While there have been many obstacles on the path to legalized iPoker in California, proponents are making progress,” said Victor Rocha, editor-in-chief of Pechanga.net, the leading gaming-industry news aggregator since 1998. “These are complex issues and the iGaming Symposium will explore in detail all aspects of the issues.”
“The iGaming Legislative Symposium brings together the most important thought leaders in Internet gambling, tribal governance, and California politics. Anyone who may have a stake in the outcome of Internet gambling legislation in California will want to attend this conference,” added Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, the globally recognized research and consulting firm.