For California Online Poker, It’s Starting To Look Like ‘Wait Until Next Year’

August 26, 2016
For California Online Poker, It’s Starting To Look Like ‘Wait Until Next Year’

Once upon a time, the chances of California online poker legislation getting to the finish line in 2016 seemed good. Or at least far better than they had ever been in past years.

Those hopes have quickly faded as the legislature is set to adjourn at the end of the month, and the bill still has not come up for a vote in the full Assembly. A plan for such a vote this week was scuttled earlier. It would also have to pass the Senate.

Stakeholders worked on the bill — AB 2863 — for much of the year, tweaking it to attempt to appease all sides and finally bring legal and regulated online poker.

But despite all the progress, it looks like the wait for online poker will continue into next year, although there is still a chance that the bill will see action.

The latest (bad) news for California online poker

A new report at GamblingCompliance (paywall) broke down where the online poker bill stands, and handicaps its chances.

Lobbying for and against the bill continues, according to GC, but there is just as much opposition to it now — just in different forms — than there was earlier in the year.

The crux of the debate remains suitability language, which was amended just last week in a last-ditch attempt to move the bill forward. The amendment creates a five-year “sit-out” period for so called “bad actors,” aimed at keeping PokerStars out of the market initially. There would be no way to buy out of the sit-out period, like in past iterations of the bill.

Where’s everyone at on the online poker bill?

Several tribes that used to be opposed to the bill — most notably Pechanga and Agua Caliente — support it with the new suitability language.

Now, however, two different factions oppose the bill. That includes the PokerStars-led coalition of cardrooms and tribes, which is fighting to get PokerStars in the market immediately under legislation.

Also, some of Pechanga and Agua Caliente’s coalition partners do not think the sit-out period is long enough, GC reported.

All of that adds up to a lot of opposition for a bill that needs a two-thirds majority to pass.

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Is there any path to compromise on suitability?

Until the suitability issue is resolved, it’s not clear how California can enact an online poker law. Despite constantly working on the issue throughout the summer, Assemblymember Adam Gray, the bill’s sponsor, has not yet found language that the varying stakeholders can all agree on.

The fact that the bill has not yet come up for a vote means it almost certainly doesn’t have the support to pass as written.  At this point, it’s fair to wonder if such language will ever be crafted to get all sides on board — this year or in any other.

The bill appears to on a scale that almost has no way of reaching equilibrium. Getting one powerful group on the side of the bill almost automatically means the other group will oppose it.

Any changes to the bill that makes it easier for PokerStars to get into the market probably means Pechanga coalition pulls its support. That lobbying for and against the bill keeps it from getting to a magic number of votes that will allow it to move to the Senate.

The only reason for optimism is that no one in California has truly given up on online poker regulation — at least publicly — and there was an honest attempt to reach a compromise this year. There was real progress made when nearly everyone agreed to a subsidy for the horse-racing industry, which is easy to forget when the bill is sitting idle now.

But will everyone come back to the negotiating table next year, if the bill doesn’t happen this year? Proponents of online poker certainly hope the progress this year will translate to momentum in 2017.

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