Candidates For Online Gambling Legalization: California Waiting For A Miracle

March 2, 2017
Candidates For Online Gambling Legalization: California Waiting For A Miracle

Editor’s note: This is the first in the series of articles on the prospects for online gambling around the US. (Part two.)

US Poker has selected its five top candidates for online gaming legalization in 2017.

They are (in no particular order):

  1. California
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Michigan
  4. New York
  5. Pennsylvania

In this series, we’ll look at each state one by one:

  • How it got to this point
  • Break down the current legislation in consideration
  • Handicap the chances of online gambling passing in 2017

First up is California and its longstanding efforts to pass a bill legalizing and regulating online poker.

California is more or less waiting for someone to develop a miracle cure for its terminal disease, which apparently targets and kills online poker bills.

A short history of online poker efforts in California

For the past 10 years, California and its 38 million residents have been busy playing the role of online poker’s white whale. The state has been pursuing online poker for a decade, but legalization has proven elusive.

Online poker = problems

The same reason California is so coveted by online poker proponents — its size — is also the reason legalization has been difficult. California politics are more like those of a country than a state.

California has multiple gaming interests (horse racing tracks, card rooms, tribal casinos, and a state lottery). It also features multiple factions within these industries all trying to make sure they get the best deal when it comes to online poker.

Progress has been made

Despite the complexity its size creates, California has made a lot of progress on the online poker front. Lawmakers and stakeholders have been masterfully maneuvering their way past a number of sticking points in recent years.

They’ve solved what appeared to be stalemates when it came to everything from taxation and licensing fees. They have even found a compromise that would make the state’s racing industry happy.

The end boss remains

But one issue has remained unresolved — the inclusion or exclusion of PokerStars. No one can come to consensus on whether the bill itself or the state regulators should determine what companies are suitable and deserve to be involved in California online poker.

So, even though the state has managed to beat Glass Joe, Von Kaiser, Piston Honda (twice), Don Flamenco (twice), King Hippo, Great Tiger, Bald Bull (also twice), Soda Popinski, Mr. Sandman, and Super Macho Man, California still hasn’t figured out how to beat Mike Tyson — finding a compromise when it comes to PokerStars and the thorny suitability issue.

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California’s current online poker legislation

California Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer introduced an online poker bill (A 1677) earlier this month. That legislation builds on all of the previous progress. But Jones-Sawyer’s bill offers no new compromise on suitability, leaving it up to state regulators to make that determination.

Lawmakers tried a similar solution (that involved a one-time fee) last year and failed, along with an effort that would have prohibited PokerStars.

Leaving suitability up to the regulators may be the PokerStars coalition’s ultimate choice. But it simply hasn’t passed muster with a politically powerful coalition of tribes opposing the company’s involvement.

Until the suitability issue is solved, online poker in California will be at an impasse.

The suitability issue has been frustrating in recent years. But I’d point out that the horse racing compromise crafted last year came out of nowhere, and racing was seen as an even bigger roadblock than PokerStars.

2017 prognosis for California online poker

Barring some unlikely change — PokerStars giving up on California or the Pechanga coalition fracturing — California is a long shot to pass an online poker bill this year.

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