California Still Faces a Major Hurdle to Legalize Online Poker

Written By Steve Ruddock on May 27, 2014
California Online Poker's Biggest Roakblock

Yesterday’s iGaming Hearing hosted by Capitol Weekly had a little bit of everything. It was contentious, it required plenty of fact-checking, it was informative, it was optimistic, it was pessimistic, and there were plenty of proverbial lines drawn in the sand.

Basically, it had a little something for everyone from Andy Abboud to Rich Muny.

There were certainly a lot of positives to take away from the conference, as many people have pointed out, but this could be a bit of glossing over the one issue that could derail this train, and it seems to have gotten more complicated and more contentious during the hearing: PokerStars and the “bad actor” clause.

So for all the positives, I came away from the hearing with a less positive feeling of California’s chances for passing an online poker bill in 2014. I don’t think it’s out of the question by any means, but I’m not as positive as I was at noon on Thursday.

You can read Johnny G’s perspective here: Highlights From Yesterday’s California Conference on Online Gaming

My perspective

This was at least the sixth conference / hearing I covered this year alone (they all sort of run together at some point, probably because of the similar sounding acronyms) and while many have walked away from yesterday’s online gambling conference in California with pretty much the same feeling they had when they walked in, I have a bit of a different perspective based on my own conference and hearing experience.

A more pessimistic perspective.

After covering the process in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, and seeing the “polite” tones taken in less contentious states like Massachusetts or at other conferences like iGNA (which are almost entirely upbeat, positive, and leave you with the sense that “Everything is AWESOME!“) Thursday’s hearing was contentious all along, especially on the pivotal PokerStars situation… A situation that is looking more and more like it might need a cleaner of Winston Wolf’s caliber to resolve.

In the past (when things have gotten done anyway) there was even less disagreement, and certainly nowhere near what we are seeing between the pro- and anti-PokerStars factions.

It’s all about PokerStars

Sure there are still issues to be resolved with the racing industry and some other minor fracases that have been or are being worked out like the number of licenses a provider should receive, but this entire debate in California is almost certainly going to boil down to one thing and one thing only, do we give PokerStars a shot at a license?

Should we explicitly bar them from entry through a “bad actor” clause in the legislation, or should we leave this issue in the hands of the regulators, whose job is seemingly to wade through precisely this kind of thorny issue in many people’s minds.

I’m of the opinion that if the bad actor language is not removed from the bill you can essentially kiss 2014 goodbye; the Morongos and PokerStars, along with the Bicycle Casino, the Commerce Casino, and Hawaiian Gardens have basically put all their eggs in the PokerStars basket and thrown on their PokerStars or Bust t-shirts.

This is THE issue confronting California.

Other interesting takeaways

Despite what you’re probably thinking by now there were other topics discussed at the conference:

  • Andy Abboud’s replacement Fabian Nunez is a less informed version of Andy Abboud. In fact it was as if Adelson was unhappy with ticket sales for a Broadway show he was producing (his battle against online gambling is something along the lines of performance art) and went to the understudy. Problem is, the understudy was the understudy for a reason. He sucks.
  • On the same subject, is it just me or is no legislator taking these Adelson arguments seriously? Whether it was Abboud before Congress, Abboud in front of California legislators, and now Nunez flubbing all over the California conference, it’s as if Adelson’s minions are just being invited out of courtesy, and nobody is really taking these arguments seriously. I imagine the stenographer gets up for a coffee break when Abboud / Nunez start talking.
  • From the sound of things it seems like the question I asked last week was answered yesterday. Based on what I heard it seems like some tentative partnerships have been formed in California.
  • As Chris Grove tweeted, “The big winners from online poker regulation in California so far: Lawyers, lobbyists and conference caterers”
  • According to Jeff Grubbe, the Chairman of the Agua Caliente, a hearing is being scheduled for June. So there is our next big day on the calendar.
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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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