Committee Passes CA Online Poker Bill despite Concerns

California Poker BillA bill to regulate online poker in California passed through the committee stage yesterday despite concerns that suitability issues remain unresolved. 

Yesterday´s hearing of the Assembly Appropriations Committee may have passed Adam Gray´s “Internet Consumer Protection Act of 2016”, but the issue over whether or not PokerStars should be allowed to participate in a regulated market divided the committee members.

Many of the committee members commented that – as the Appropriations Committee was focused on fiscal matters – they would approve the financial provisions of the bill, but said they would oppose its passage in the Assembly in its current format due to the suitability issues.

PokerStars´ Participation Dominates Proceedings

Amendments added [geolink href=””]last week[/geolink] to the “Internet Consumer Protection Act of 2016” were supposed to overcome objections to PokerStars´ participation in a regulated market. However the measures to impose a $20 million fine on bad actors that continued to provide a service in California post UIGEA and freeze their tainted assets failed to gain support from the bill´s opponents and committee members.

During his brief testimony to the committee members, Chairman of the Agua Caliente tribe – Jeff Grubbe – repeated his assertion that a $20 million fine was no more than a Get Out of Jail Free Card to an organization the size of PokerStars – an opinion mirror by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, who said that the amount of the fine was too low and questioned how it had been arrived at.

Garcia suggested that bad actors should be given a five-year ban and pay the fine of $20 million, while Assemblyman Bill Quirk commented that the biggest tainted asset owned by PokerStars was not its customer email list but the PokerStars name itself. However, both Assemblymen voted in favor of the bill´s passage – Assemblyman Brian Jones being the only committee member to vote against the proposal.

Answering committee members´ questions about suitability, Adam Gray was clearly frustrated by the volume of opposition to PokerStars participation in a regulated market. Even Chair of the Appropriations Committee – Lorena Gonzalez – commented

I hope we can resolve this before it comes to a vote on the floor, because I think it will prevent a vote from being successful on the floor.

Advocates Celebrations´ Muted by Ongoing Suitability Issue

By avoiding responsibility for sorting out the suitability issue, and focusing solely on the financial implications of the “Consumer Internet Protection Act”, the Assembly Appropriations Committee has left the proposals to regulate online poker in California “[geolink href=””]half-cooked[/geolink]”. With the bad actor question still the biggest obstacle to regulated Internet poker, those in favor of the bill were muted in their celebrations.

The Poker Players Association – possibly not used to seeing its advocacy organization achieve anything – was one of the first to admit that there was more work to do; while James Guill from affiliate site commented I´d hardly call the CA poker bill moving out of Appropriations a win. Possibly the best post-vote tweet came from Steve Ruddock, who often contributes to Ruddock tweeted:

No Guarantee that the Bill will be Heard by the Assembly

This time last year, a “[geolink href=””]bare-bones proposal[/geolink]” was passed by the Assembly Appropriations Committee but never saw the light of day again. Although the concerns of the horse-racing industry about online poker in California have since been resolved, the continuing division between those in favor of and those opposed to PokerStars´ participation may prevent the “Internet Consumer Protection Act” from ever being debated by the full Californian Assembly.

Furthermore, there are still strong concerns about the clause in the current version of the bill that would make it a felony to play on unregulated poker sites before licensed sites are up and running. Worries about genuine player protection and a ring-fenced market continued to be voiced on poker player forums, as well as fears that high levels of taxation will cripple the marketplace in a similar scenario to what has happened in Spain.

If only there was an organization that advocated on behalf of what poker players actually wanted.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett