When (yes when) California legalizes online poker, one of three scenarios will likely unfold. In the first, a “bad actor” clause banning any and all pre-UIGEA participants, including PokerStars, is enacted. The Golden State’s poker community is left feeling less than enthusiastic.
A second sees PokerStars gain immediate access to California’s 38 million inhabitants. The Poker Players Alliance (PPA), legions of online poker aficionados and myself take to the streets in jubilant celebration.
But as we all know, touchy legislative issues rarely have black and white answers. Which brings us to scenario number three, where PokerStars is granted a license, but is prohibited from launching operations until a predetermined grace period passes.
As much as I am pro-PokerStars, delaying its entry may be the only way to both appeal to the masses and ensure that any iPoker legislation that comes out of California in 2015 is inked into law.
Lingering issues regarding the role of racetracks and small tribes in the prospective regulated marketplace aside, the only real issue dividing lawmakers and the state’s influential tribal factions is PokerStars.
Let’s be clear – it’s not that PokerStars’ opponents in California oppose the online poker giant solely because it continued to operate in the United States post-UIGEA. If that were the case, why didn’t they soften their stance when the Rational Group was acquired by “good actor” Amaya Gaming?
Instead, they fear that the triumvirate of PokerStars, the Morongo and three of CA’s largest card rooms will spell doom for their bottom line. And who wouldn’t feel threatened competing against a company that in Europe attracts more than nine times the volume of its next nearest competitor?
But by pushing off its right to operate by say 12 or 18 months, other operators have a chance to establish their worth. This sort of compromise benefits the greater poker community in two integral ways.
We’ve already touched on the idea that by either pushing off PokerStars’ entry or reevaluating its application at a later date, the path towards legislation becomes much clearer, i.e. faster.
Perhaps just as importantly, it gives day one operators a hard deadline to win over consumers. I think its safe to say that the looming presence of PokerStars will compel operators to be far less lackadaisical then they have been in New Jersey. In turn the people that matter most, the players, benefit.
Powerful figures within the iGaming sphere such as former 888 CEO Brian Mattingley maintain the belief that while the presence of PokerStars is ultimately good for the market, it should face a penalty for all the years it operated at an advantage.
And that’s fair. If anything a brief delay ensures that PokerStars will have enough time to fine tune its stellar PokerStars 7 client before launching in California. Perhaps it also learns a thing or two from others’ mistakes.
My advice to California legislators: Level the playing field, do whatever it takes to guarantee that an online poker bill is passed in 2015 and the rules of fair play are upheld. If that means PokerStars entry must be delayed, then so be it. But don’t leave the regulated iPoker industry’s best hope out in the cold.