Earlier this year the California Senate and Assembly introduced bills that would allow the state to expand their gaming options, adding online poker to the mix that already includes card rooms, tribal casinos and race tracks.
The attempt is nothing new, as this marks the fifth year in a row that California has flirted with expanding into iGaming, and even though the state is closer than ever before, it’s starting to look like we can get ready for California’s sixth try next year, as the legislature is running out of time to get something done before the session comes to an end.
The online poker bills introduced by Senator Lou Correa and Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer are fairly similar but not identical, as they were crafted by two different factions. Additionally, the bills have run into numerous roadblocks since they were introduced, most notably the ongoing fight over who should be allowed to apply for a license should California legalize and regulate online poker, the so-called “Bad Actor” clause.
Bad Actor opponents
On one side of the aisle is the coalition that includes Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Commerce Casino, the Bicycle Casino, and the Hawaiian Gardens Casino who are calling for lawmakers to strip out any language that would preemptively bar certain companies from applying for an online poker license – namely those that accepted wagers from the US after December 31, 2006.
This opposition is not surprising considering all four of these entities have signed an agreement that will see them partner with PokerStars should online poker come to California, and PokerStars falls under the definition of a Bad Actor used in the bills.
The PokerStars coalition stance is that the regulators, not lawmakers, should decide which companies are suitable and which are not, just as New Jersey regulators have done. Basically, let the regulators do the job they are paid to do; regulate.
Bad Actor proponents
On the other side is basically everyone else, or at the very least 13 other tribes.
To oppose PokerStars a group of 13 tribes have teamed up, not only voicing their opposition in letters and at public hearings, but going so far as to hold meetings to hash out any disagreements between themselves in order to focus all of their scorn on the PokerStars issue.
This coalition of tribes has even drafted their own online poker bill which they were hoping would be introduced by a friendly Senator / Assemblyperson.
So far nobody has stepped up to the plate and introduced the bill.
The proposed bill contains comprehensive Bad Actor / Tainted Assets language that would preclude a company like PokerStars from even applying for a license in California. This groups stance is that companies that violated UIGEA should not be allowed to participate in the new regulated markets; they should not be rewarded for continuing to operate in the US during that time period.
You can read more about this disagreement here: PokerStars Past Under Siege
What the Bad Actor debate has done
The debate over PokerStars may not have “killed the bill” directly, but the ongoing fight, and the inability by the two sides to come to some type of an agreement has stalled online poker talks in the state, and at this point stalling talks is pretty much the same as “killing the bill.”
The legislature has already passed one deadline (all bills were supposed to have been passed by their House of Origin by May 30, 2014) although as I pointed out in an article at OnlinePokerReport.com several weeks ago, there are several potential loopholes to get around this deadline, including the almost farcical “Gut and Amend” solution that allows a lawmaker to essentially erase a current bill that has passed its house of origin and replace it with an entirely new bill. The only restriction being that the bill would have to be passed by both houses.
However, there is another more steadfast deadline looming, as the legislative calendar states:
Aug. 31 Last day for each house to pass bills (Art. IV. Sec. 10(c), J.R. 61(b)(17)). Final Recess begins upon adjournment (J.R. 51(b)(3)).
Essentially, anything that is not passed by August 31 is officially dead. No workarounds, no loopholes, no nothing. If the California legislature does not pass an online poker bill (Senate and Assembly) by August 31 the legislative session comes to an end and any pending bills are wiped from the books.
If California doesn’t make some headway on online poker in the very near future we can kiss 2014 goodbye.