California iGaming Week in Review: Topsy Turvy iGaming Rides

Written By Steve Ruddock on June 27, 2014
California iGaming and PokerStars ownership's effect

Can someone please put me out of misery already? California has sent me on one of the most gut wrenching, topsy turvy iGaming rides of any state and we’re only heading into July.

I’m not saying California’s path to online poker isn’t an interesting one, but California’s 2014 online poker dreams seem to now be hanging on by the thinnest of strings (so next week it will probably look likely again), and instead of sorting out and solving its problems it feels like every week more and more problems are continually being introduced.

With PokerStars ownership in limbo for the foreseeable future (September 30th appears to be the target date for the closing of the sale to Amaya Gaming) California’s plans for online poker seem to be on hold, and the state’s lawmakers have started to employ the “usual suspects” of stalling language as I’ll explain below.

September is also the end of the line for this session of the California legislature, so it would seem that with the Amaya / PokerStars deal set for late September we can start looking ahead to 2015 already.

As the saying goes: So close, yet so far away.

Who even owns PokerStars?

So why do we have to wait for the PokerStars sale to be finalized?

Like waiting for the sale of a house to go through, Amaya is fairly certain that PokerStars is going to be theirs, but they can’t just move in yet – or in the case of California, advance their cause. They’re in the house measuring the wall space to see if their furniture will fit and picking out colors for the walls, but technically the house belongs to someone else until the sale is final.

I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to calling Amaya the new owners of PokerStars, but when it comes to issues like licensing, PokerStars still owns PokerStars until everything is officially signed, sealed, and delivered.

The “Poison Pill” was perhaps potentially put in place on purpose

First off, is that enough P’s in the header title for you?

The latest rumors coming out of California (they’re not really new but they are picking up steam) is that several of the tribes that have lined up against PokerStars and their allies and are pushing for a “Bad Actor / Tainted Assets” clause are not too keen on online poker in the first place and see this issue as something that can be used to kill the bill.

If these rumors are true it would seem that the whole affair this year has been little more than a dog and pony show orchestrated by some (not all but some) gaming interests in an effort to not appear as the “bad guys” in this, as nobody wants to be blamed for costing California tens-of-millions in tax revenue and licensing fees.

Lawmakers sense iPoker slipping away

Earlier this year there were several online poker champions emerging in the California state legislature, but recently these champions seem to getting cold feet, as their rhetoric has changed from one of eternal optimism and “Ra-Ra” speeches to the cautious, looking at everything, approach.

According to, the authors of the original bills are not simply going to rubber-stamp the bill proposed by the coalition of 13 tribes, “Correa and Jones-Sawyer last week told tribal leaders they will not automatically sign off on draft amendments to the bills agreed to by the politically powerful tribal coalition,” the website states.

“Senator Correa intends to be very deliberate in reviewing the tribal coalition’s i-poker proposal,” said Arthur Terzakis, director of the Senate Government Organization Committee, “… he has asked for input from the state’s attorneys and regulators.”

A source close to Reginald Jones-Sawyer (the author of the Assembly bill) stated, “He wants to make sure this is done right.”

Even PokerStars partners are measuring their words

While overtly they are saying all the right things [paraphrasing], “this only improves our partnership” and “PokerStars is proving once again why they are the best in the world” if you read between the lines you’ll start to see that there is a lot of uncertainty even among PokerStars partners (The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Bicycle Club, the Commerce Casino, and the Hawaiian Gardens Casino) evidenced by the remarks of Haig Kelegian, Managing Director, Bicycle Club to

“The Amaya / PokerStars deal is perhaps bigger that it looks on the surface. There are many questions to be answered in California, for example who will be the entity that applies for a license or can public listed companies do this type of business in the state. I think many competitors will try and block PokerStars as they are very strong and being front runners in the internet business has a huge advantage.”

California iGaming Barometer

It’s looking liked we’ve got some storm clouds on the horizon for the remainder of 2014. So unless something drastic occurs, or some miracle 11th hour deal is agreed to, California can be crossed off potential 2014 online gaming expansion nominees, joining Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.

But hey, there is always 2015!

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a longtime member of the online gambling industry. He covers the regulated US online casino and poker industries for variety of publications, including,,, and USA Today.

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