California’s legislatures, regulators, and casino / cardroom / Indian interests were thrown a curveball this past week, and their online poker plans will now have to deal with a major wildcard that has been thrown into the mix, PokerStars.
According to several reports and rumors percolating around the iGaming campfire, PokerStars and the Morongo Tribe are in talks to partner in the still nonexistent California market. This is all speculation at this point, but the rumors are coming from legitimate outlets, and the fear is that the addition of PokerStars could very well derail the entire process.
In this installment of the California iGaming Week in Review we’ll delve into this now even more complicated situation, as well as get you caught up on all of the latest from the iGaming North America Conference (iGNA) being held in Las Vegas, and we’ll also bring you our weekly forecast of iGaming expansion in the Golden State.
Is PokerStars coming to California?
After this week’s rumors virtually all eyes in California have turned to PokerStars and the Morongo Tribe, as the two entities may hold the key (or have their finger on the self-destruct switch depending on your perspective) to online poker in California.
The rumors began with a Tweet by iGaming Player, and the following day Gambling Compliance ran a story detailing the same rumor, giving it quite a bit of legs. Essentially, according to the reports, PokerStars and the Morongo Tribe are teaming up in California and will fight to have any “bad actor” clauses removed from potential legislation.
Of course, no other card-room, casino, or tribe in California is going to want to compete against PokerStars, so if the Morongo Tribe is insistent that a bad actor clause is not included in any online poker legislation in the state, the chances for online poker legislation passing become close to zero.
This leaves the Morongo Tribe facing the proverbial Catch-22 situation. If they move forward with their partnership with Stars it’s highly unlikely a bill will pass the legislature. If they break ties with PokerStars (assuming there are any ties to be broken of course) they lose out on the chance of partnering with the #1 brand in online poker.
The smart money says the Morongo Tribe will not jeopardize the chance to pass an online poker bill, especially when there are no guarantees PokerStars will receive a license from the CGCC; something Resorts Casino discovered when they partnered with PokerStars in New Jersey and have found their partner left on the outside looking in of the NJ market.
Correa and Lopes hopeful at iGNA
At the 2014 iGNA Conference, California State Senator and author of one of the two online poker bills introduced into the legislature Lou Correa, along with the Chairman of the California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC) Richard Lopes, were part of one of the first panels on the iGNA schedule, and both had a very positive outlooks on the potential for California to finally get an online gambling bill passed.
Both men were extremely upbeat about the current bills, with Lopes saying the CGCC was “ready, willing, and able” to get the regulations put in place, according to Chris Grove of www.onlinepokerreport.com, and could do so rather quickly if a bill is passed.
Senator Correa touched on the legislation and seemed pleased that both bills were already very similar to one another, which should make finding compromises a far easier task.
Of course, both men also had to weigh in on the PokerStars rumors, and judging by their comments it doesn’t look too good for the world’s largest online poker room.
I asked Correa about the Morongo / @PokerStars reports. He wouldn’t comment, but said his bill rewards “good actors” #iGNA2014
Both bills currently have language barring “bad actors” from being part of the initial licensees in California, but bills can be amended, and the bill supported by the Morongo Tribe (AB 2291) does have the softer language to begin with.
California iGaming Barometer
There have been a number of mixed signals coming out of California. It appears that everyone is finally on the same page, and online poker expansion has an overwhelming amount of support across the board.
But then there is the PokerStars issue, and the inclusion of Stars could very well blowup the entire deal.
If the PokerStars rumors turns out to be little more than the company testing the waters to see if there is an appetite for allowing the site into the California iGaming industry than I have high hopes for a bill getting passed this year.
On the other hand, if this is more than posturing California iPoker may see another calendar year turn without expansion into online gambling.
Unfortunately, until this PokerStars rumor fully shakes out we are sort of left in the dark.