2018 Bill to Regulate Online Poker in California Unlikely

California Poker BillWith there being little chance a bill to regulate online poker in California would be successful this year, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer has said he will not be re-introducing his Internet Poker Consumer Protection Bill in 2018. But, will any other legislator be willing to take on the challenge?

Efforts to regulate online poker in California has been a constant since 2010, when State Senator Roderick Wright introduced his “Internet Gambling Consumer Protection and Public-Private Partnership Act”. Unfortunately the bill bombed, as did Senator Wright´s career when he was found guilty of voter fraud and perjury later the same year and sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Despite the uninspiring start for online poker regulation, a number of legislators took up the challenge in subsequent years. While Senators Lou Correa and Isadore Hall introduced legislation into the Senate, Assemblymen Reggie Jones- Sawyer and Mike Gatto tried their luck with California´s second legislative chamber – with Adam Gray also entering the fray in 2016.

This Guy Deserves a Medal

If medals were given for legislative effort, Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer would have a chest full of them. In each year from 2014 to 2017 he introduced an Internet Poker Consumer Protection Bill and, as well as lobbying for support for his bills, worked hard with stakeholders in an attempt to find a balance between what was good for them, good for the state, and good for the players.

Sadly, the popular Assemblyman will not be re-introducing his bill in 2018. Speaking with OnlinePokerReport, Jones-Sawyer said there had been little progress in resolving the differences between stakeholders, and that there was more chance of online poker legislation being successful if it is combined with a sports betting bill next year – subject to a favourable outcome in Christie v. NCAA.

The Differences between the Stakeholders

The differences between the stakeholders mostly concerned two coalitions – one favouring the inclusion of PokerStars in a regulated market, the other opposing the inclusion of PokerStars. The coalition favouring PokerStars´ inclusion consists of brick-and-mortar casinos and card rooms, whereas the coalition opposed to PokerStars consists of some fairly powerful tribal casinos.

The argument for inclusion is that a worldwide brand would drive players to the site. The argument against is that PokerStars would have a market advantage and should be prohibited from providing a service in California due to operating in the years following the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act. At one point, a compromise was nearly reached inasmuch as PokerStars would have to wait five years before launching in California, but that was rejected at the last minute.

Is That All That´s Stopping Regulated Online Poker in California?

Not quite. PokerStars was widely criticized for not agreeing to the five-year penalty. It was argued that, if PokerStars had taken a penalty when it was first suggested, the proposals to regulate online poker in California would have passed and the site would now be on the verge of launching. In hindsight, not being first-to-market didn´t hurt PokerStars´ market share when the site launched in New Jersey.

However, it´s not that simple. Before PokerStars got involved in the discussion, tribal gaming interests were objecting to the regulation of online poker. In 2010, the California Tribal Business Alliance argued against the regulation of online poker on the grounds that it violated compacts which gave tribal casinos a degree of exclusivity on gaming devices. More recently, tribal interests have opposed the regulation of DFS, and the methods used by card rooms to circumnavigate the law prohibiting banked card games.

So, Is Californian Poker Regulation Dead for Another Year?

It seems that way. With little progress made between the stakeholders, and practically no grass-roots involvement being pursued by the Poker Players Alliance, there appears to be no appetite for another year of disagreements, accusations and false hope. Possibly Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer is correct in his belief that a joint poker/sports betting bill would have more chance of success. Maybe not.

Certainly for this year, it looks as if the only discussions about regulated online poker in California will take place outside the state´s legislative chambers. The deadline for filing new bills is tomorrow (Friday 16th); and, unless a legislator other than Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer is willing to take up the challenge, we can safely wipe California from list of states for whom poker regulation in 2018 is a possibility.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett