California Online Poker

USPoker is the home for regulated online poker news. California is the most hotly-contested state when it comes to legalizing and regulating online poker. There are three sides to the debate. All look to legalize online poker to their own benefit.

 

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California online poker bill AB 2863

California Assemblyman Adam Gray introduced AB 2863 during the 2016 legislative session. The bill took a different approach from previous years, but, as with past efforts to legalize online poker in the state, the various stakeholders were unable to reach a consensus and the bill failed to come to a vote prior to the end of the session.

In 2016, Assemblyman Gray hoped to solve the issue with the debate about whether the horse racing tracks should be involved in the state’s online poker industry.

The California horse racing industry would have received up to $60 million per year from online poker taxes if AB 2863 had passed the state legislature. Five percent of the annual taxes up to $60 would have gone to the California Fair and Exposition Fund.

The other 95 percent was to be split up three ways. Purses for the horsemen would receive 95.4 percent. The remaining 4.6 percent would be evenly divided between pensions for horsemen and employees of racetracks.

AB 2863 did not address licensing fees or a tax rate. These portions of the bill were intentionally blank. A previous version required a $15 million deposit and a 15 percent tax rate.

Another issue in AB 2863 was a bad actor clause. This is what some California tribes want to keep PokerStars out of the state, which led to PokerStars and its coalition rallying against AB 2863.

The 2016 legislative session ended in California on Aug. 31, 2016. AB 2863 did not get a vote and was thus declared dead for the year. Whether the issue will be taken up again in 2017 remains to be seen.

Past California online poker bills

California Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer introduced AB 167 in 2015. The bill would have permitted all card clubs, tribes, and racetracks to offer online poker in California. 

It would have also created player penalties for giving action to unlicensed, offshore sites. This bill was supported by the PokerStars coalition, but not the Pechanga coalition.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced AB 9 during the 2015 California legislative session. This bill included a bad actor clause and did not permit licensing of racetracks. It was supported by the Pechanga Coalition, but not the PokerStars Coalition.

State Senator Isadore Hall and Assemblyman Adam Gray introduced SB 278 and AB 431, respectively. These were placeholder bills with no major language pertaining to online poker. 

PokerStars coalition

The PokerStars coalition consists of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Commerce Casino, Hawaiian Gardens, and the Bicycle Casino. 

This group opposes the so-called “bad actor” clause, which would exclude any company that accepted bets after Dec. 31, 2006 in the US without proper licensing.

The reason for the PokerStars coalition’s opposition to a bad actor clause is obvious. It would exclude PokerStars from being able to operate in California, removing the group’s partner.

The PokerStars coalition also supports the inclusion of the state’s racetracks. It is thought that any bill that does not include the horse racing industry will be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Pechanga coalition

There are seven tribes that oppose bad actors and the participation of racetracks in California. Those tribes are:

  • Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Barona Band of Mission Indians
  • Lytton Band of Pomo Indians
  • Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians
  • Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
  • Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation
  • Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation

Other tribal positions

Most other California tribes have remained mostly silent on the issue of racetracks or bad actors. Pala Interactive, the online gaming subsidiary of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, appears to expect that racetracks will be included.

Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians partnered with Caesars for its land-based casino. It seems logical that it would use WSOP.com for its interactive gaming. Rincon and Caesars both stated that they support the inclusion on PokerStars in the California online gaming market.

Popular questions about California online poker

Why is California behind other states in legalizing online poker?

While California was one of the first states to offer legal card clubs, its ability to move that industry to the internet has been hampered by a variety of factors.

There are three gaming segments in California: card clubs, racetracks, and tribes. All three have different opinions as to how to approach online poker, even within the groups. This has led to issues agreeing on how to move forward.

There are also conservative groups that oppose any form of gambling expansion.

Are there any legal online poker sites in California?

There are no legal poker sites in California. Bovada, Winning Poker Network, Merge Gaming, and all other offshore sites operate unlicensed.

What are the chances that California legalizes online poker?

California online poker appears to be unlikely to pass in the near future.

What is the main issue(s) keeping online poker from legal online poker?

The main issues pertain to the inclusion of racetracks and PokerStars.

Will California offer legal online casino games?

All bills that have been introduced up to this point have only proposed legalizing poker. Casino games and sports betting have not been included in any bills.

Will California pool with other legal poker states?

Most California online poker bills have proposed the possibility of sharing players with other states, so it is possible that California could choose to pool players with New Jersey or Nevada should the state move forward on legalizing internet poker.

How soon would California launch online poker if they pass legislation in 2017?

It would take between 12 and 18 months for California online poker to launch, if approved by lawmakers.

Will PokerStars operate in California?

That depends on the bill that eventually passes. Some include language that would specifically exclude PokerStars. It is thought by some industry experts that a bill excluding PokerStars can never pass in California.

How much tax revenue will California generate?

It is estimated that California online poker rooms would generate about $350 million a year in rake. This would translate to $35 million a year in tax revenue at a rate of 10 percent.

Additional licensing fees for sites and employees would also create taxes for the state.

Will California poker sites be available outside of California?

Legal California poker sites would only be available in states where a liquidity sharing agreement is created. Otherwise, players will be required to be in California at the time of action.

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