Call a Spade a Spade: The California PokerStars Debate

Written By Jennifer Newell on May 27, 2014
PokerStars Focused Online Poker Debate in Cali

The central thread of the majority of discussions regarding California online poker revolves around the potential bad actor clause. And in reality, that means only one online poker operator.

Some participants in last week’s California Conference on Online Gaming, which was hosted by Capitol Weekly, actually used the name of the company. Some still refer to bad actors instead of naming the company that uses the red spade as its logo. It’s the largest online poker site in the world, you know the one. It starts with the letter P… Poker something…

PokerStars! That’s it!

Online Poker’s Bad Actors

“Bad actors” should refer to celebrities who are terrible on screen. I’m looking at you, actors from the Lucky You poker movie.

In the gaming industry, however, “bad actors” have come to refer to online gaming companies that did business in the United States after the passage of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).

Some of them continue to do business in the US market (cough-Bovada-cough), but those are not the ones that would ever be considered for licenses in states like New Jersey or California to operate legal online poker businesses. Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker would be considered bad actors if they were still around, but they’re clearly not. And Full Tilt Poker was absorbed into PokerStars.

That leaves PokerStars. It’s the only company that most casino operators and tribal entities are worried will completely take over the US regulated industry. PokerStars has the reputation, and most players trust and like that operator more than any other.

When most conversations regarding online poker in any given state in America bring up bad actors, the reference is to PokerStars.

Not-So-Quiet Presence in California

At last week’s conference, attendees reported via Twitter that PokerStars had a significant presence in the form of promotional materials. There were PokerStars chips, hats, and keychains.

It was genius and obvious at the same time.

The first mention of PokerStars was during the first panel on May 22, and it was Reggie Jones-Sawyer of the California State Assembly who actually called the company by name, according to Chris Grove of

Jones-Sawyer said the Coca-Cola of online poker is PokerStars, and California wants to start a cola company with the assurance that local operators can compete. In addition, the Assemblyman said it’s been a challenge to get people to talk about “real issues” like PokerStars.

The “Tribal Perspectives” panel was where it got interesting, as the participants consisted of representatives for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (Paul Grubbe) and Morongo Band of Mission Indians and PokerStars partner (Robert Martin).

Martin did not hesitate to address the bad actor problem head on. He immediately alluded to a few sticking points that stand in the way of regulating online poker in California, the biggest being bad actors.

He stated firmly that the regulator should determine who participates in the industry, and should legislators try to make that decision, litigation is likely to follow. Martin was clear about the “bad actor” clause as well, noting that it should simply be called a “limit competition” clause due to its true nature.

Grubbe responded by stating that Agua Caliente, other tribes, and lawmakers are “not picking on PokerStars” but trying to create a safe environment. He firmly believes the bad actor clause will be in the final bill, just like it is in New Jersey. (In fact, there is no bad actor clause in New Jersey.)

In the last panel of the day, John Latimer of Capitol Advocacy, representing PokerStars, noted that passage of California online poker has a narrow window in 2014 due to disagreements over the potential participation of PokerStars.

Onward to a More Honest Discussion?

According to reporters at the conference, the name PokerStars was used more times and more openly than in the past, though some preferred to try to indicate a broader problem with bad actors. Some simply acknowledge that PokerStars is the company at the center of the debate.

If PokerStars is going to be allowed in or kept out of states like California, the discussions must include the name of the actual operator. Dancing around repeating the “bad actor” phrase does nothing to further the debate.

If the May 22 conference was any indication, PokerStars is ready to fight for their place in the industry and refrain from being shy about it. It is forcing opponents to address PokerStars specifically and engage in a more honest debate.

Jennifer Newell Avatar
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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been writing about poker for nearly a decade, including extensive work as a freelancer, where Jennifer has worked for numerous gaming-related websites, magazines, and blogs with a focus on players, news, and interesting stories. Follow Jennifer on Google+ and Twitter.

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