The new battle cry for online poker legalization has become “2015 is the Year.” While it is easy to get caught up in the optimism brought forth by the perceived progress made in 2014, one has to keep in mind that an online bill in 2015 is not a slam-dunk. Even if legalized, there is little reason to believe that Californians will be able to play online before 2016.
1. Get a Bill Passed
The first step is getting a bill passed, and a new bill is still being drafted. While the next attempt to legalize the game is expected to address key issues overlooked by other drafts, there will be objections to the bill and negotiations in the future.
Let’s assume that Rep. Jones-Sawyer gets a bill drafted by the first part of 2015. How long will negotiations last to get to a bill worth submitting to the legislature for a vote? A safe estimate would be between three and five months. Leaning towards the later end of that estimate, we could expect a bill to be submitted to a vote sometime in May.
Using a conservative estimate, let’s assume it takes a month to go through legislature and to receive the Governor’s signature. We are looking at June 2015 at the passage of online poker legislation in California.
Hooray for legalization! Right? Not so fast.
2. Drawing Up Regulations
Passing an online poker bill is just the first step in bringing poker online in the state. Once a bill is drafted, regulators will still need to go through the process of drafting online poker regulations for the state.
Looking back at AB 2291, regulators would have 270 days from the bills passage to adopt regulation. While it is unlikely it will take them a full nine months to adopt regulations, even taking half that time would result in regulations being approved sometime in October or November.
We have a bill and we have regulations. Shuffle up and deal! Right? Nope, not yet.
3. Licensing and General Testing
Once regulations are in place, we get to go through the process of finding out which online providers will apply for licenses. Looking back at both Nevada and New Jersey, we know this is a process that can take months or even years depending on how slowly that California chooses to proceed.
I don’t see California rushing license applications through the pipeline, but I don’t see them taking over a year to get a site launched. Rather, I see this process taking somewhere between four and six months depending on how many different entities decide to enter the market.
We already know who a few players of the likely players will be. Amaya, Caesars, 888 Poker, PartyPoker and Ultimate Gaming will all likely apply for and receive licenses. However, there will be dozens of other primary and secondary providers that will need to be vetted by regulators and this is not a quick process.
Let’s assume this process takes six months tops. We are looking at May 2016 for this process to complete.
Finally, we are in the home stretch where companies begin to setup and test the sites. Some sites will naturally be able to get online faster due to their experience in the industry, while those choosing to use an in-house solution may take more time.
Once licensing is completed, don’t be surprised to see the first sites start to go online within 90 days. Using the above estimates, this would put the first sites online around August or September 2016.
Timelines Could Change Depending on Laws and Regulations
The above estimates are based almost exclusively on what we’ve seen in other states. Changes in these timelines could occur based on the language of the upcoming bill or online poker regulations adopted after a bill’s passage.
Even if timelines are shortened, there is little reason to believe that California will rush things through to force games online in 2015. If the state were to adopt a coordinated launch such as what happened in New Jersey, odds are it would be around the first of 2016.
Lawmakers have expressed a desire to take things slow in regards to legalizing online poker, so there is little reason to believe they will take a different approach in its launch. Signs point to a bill being passed next year, but Californians will need to be patient because they will not be able to shuffle up and deal until at least 2016.