California iGaming Week in Review: RIP California Online Poker Bills

Written By Jennifer Newell on August 11, 2014 - Last Updated on September 13, 2022
Cali iGaming talks dry up as summer comes to a close

Summer in California is a time to enjoy beaches, palm trees, and sunshine. Evidently, that’s exactly what the parties involved with online poker discussions in the state are doing instead of finding agreeable terms to pass legislation.

Online poker players will have to wait until December to see any more movement in California, and it will likely be well into 2015 before the possibility of legislation passage comes into view again.

Confirmation came through late this week that both online poker bills in the Sunshine State are shelved. Dead. Put to bed without dinner.

Rest in peace, California bills.

Goodbye, SB 1366. We Hardly Knew Ye.

As August began, legislators prepared to return from their summer recess to face desks covered with more than 1,000 pending bills. With their two-year legislative session coming to an end on August 31, priorities had to be set and work done.

When the Los Angeles Times reported about the August 4 return of the lawmakers, Internet poker was near the top of the list of topics, along with regulating medical marijuana and addressing gun laws.

Poker players once again hopped on the roller coaster of hope that California would join Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey in the burgeoning US online poker market. They saw the possibilities of such a large state entering the fray, possibly with PokerStars on board, and had visions of nut flushes and full houses dancing in their heads.

That was Monday.

By the end of the Day on Wednesday, some of those hopes were dashed.

California State Senator Lou Correa, a longtime supporter of online poker in his state, told the LA Times that his bill was dead for 2014. And since Correa’s term limits kick in to disallow him from returning to the legislature next year, his online poker efforts are now done. Period.

SB 1366 was strong because Correa was the Chairman of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee and had quite a bit of support. However, he told the LA Times on Wednesday that there was not enough time in the session to refine his bill for a vote. The tribes, horse tracks, and card rooms had been unable to agree on terms for the language of the bill, so it was filed away.

Correa noted, “Internet poker is an important public policy. We need to make sure it’s done right.”

There was still one more bill pending, that of State Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer. Could it, would it possibly be able to survive?

And Goodbye, AB 2291. You Had So Much Potential.

Jones-Sawyer’s bill was AB 2291. The morning after the shelving of Correa’s online poker effort, PokerNews confirmed that his piece of legislation was also laid to rest.

Unlike Correa, however, Jones-Sawyer will be returning to the legislature. He vowed that a new online poker bill will be the first one introduced for the next session this December. He said that progress has been made since AB 2291 was introduced, and the primary points of contention were the bad actor clause and the participation of horse race tracks in online poker.

The Jones-Sawyer representative was confident that the debate will result in some sort of compromise and that the efforts of Sheldon Adelson to stop online gambling in the United States had nothing to do with the stalling of the efforts.

Tribes Remain Confident in Future

A group of 13 tribes released a statement upon the notification of dead online poker bills in California for 2014. The coalition that includes San Manuel, Pechanga, Agua Caliente, Barona, and Pala noted:

“Our tribal governments have been deliberate and methodical in developing proposed legislation that would strictly regulate and limit Internet poker in California.

“Instilling public confidence in the integrity of State-sanctioned Internet poker is a fundamental principal of ours. To that end and in consultation with the bill authors, our tribal leaders have concluded that rushing a bill in the closing days of this legislative session will not allow for the level of careful public examination and confidence an issue of this magnitude requires.

“We look forward to continuing the work with legislators, regulators, and stakeholders on a bill that can be brought before the Legislature in 2015.”

Most of the tribes in California have been mentally and technologically preparing for the coming of Internet poker. Their active participation with legislators acknowledges the inevitability of the industry’s launch in California.

However, most of the tribes remain steadfast in their opposition to PokerStars being allowed to enter the market. Will they change their minds if (and likely when) New Jersey awards PokerStars a license to operate on the East Coast? Could their opinions be changed if Amaya launches a public campaign to gain popularity in the US?

There are now many more months to see if any of these possibilities come to pass and if the California online poker entities can come to some agreement on the details of the potential December bill.

Dare We Get Hopes Up Again?

Yes. All parties involved in online poker legislation decided that they have something to gain by legalizing and legislating online poker for Californians. It will happen.

Whether or not a bill will go all the way to passage and become a law in 2015 is another story.

It seems likely, but many thought 2014 was the year to follow in the footsteps of New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware. Many will need to see it next year to believe it.

Meanwhile, the projections for California online poker are becoming clearer, especially when Chris Grove breaks it down in such a detailed manner as he did at the end of July.

By combining and analyzing estimates of revenue from California online poker by professionals like Morgan Stanley as well as realistic looks at the Nevada and New Jersey models in place, Grove came up with a number of nearly $200 million in the first full year of regulated online poker and double that amount when the market matures.

The numbers are simply too big to ignore, for potential operators and vendors as well as legislators who are under constant pressure to find revenue-generating paths for California.

It will happen. Just don’t hold your breath because it clearly won’t be easy or fast.

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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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