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    By Steve Ruddock

    AB 1677 Online Poker Bill

    Introduced by Reggie Jones-Sawyer, AB 1677 is the first bill introduced in the 2017 legislative year to legalize online poker in California.

  • CaliforniaOnlinePoker.com is your source for news and information on California legislation that would legalize online poker for California residents.

    California online poker: Background

    2018

    It seems 2018 is not going to be the year for California online poker. Key Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer said in February that there are no plans for an online poker proposal in the 2018 session. It will be the first year in about a decade that California won’t have an online poker bill in play.

    Jones-Sawyer noted that lawmakers may be prompted to revisit the online poker issue should SCOTUS rule in favor of New Jersey in the NJ sports betting case. He remarked that the two matters could be paired together should CA lawmakers decide to take up the issue of sports betting regulation in the event of a change to federal policy.

    2017

    California Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer introduced AB 1677 in February 2017. The goal of the bill was to legalize and regulate online poker in California. No wording in the bill even addressed the operator suitability issue. It looked like an attempt to start over.

    Two months later, with no real movement on the bill, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians withdrew from its alliance with PokerStars.

    California legislators never even got around to discussing online poker and when last day for the State Senate or Assembly to pass bills came on Sept. 15, California online poker was dead again.

    2016

    In 2016, California came closer to passing legislation that would legalize and regulate online poker than it ever has before. Yet still, by the time the state’s legislative session ended in August, no bill had passed.

    As it had been in the past, the biggest stumbling block for online poker legislation in the state in 2016 was operator suitability.

    A tribal coalition led by Pechanga and Agua Caliente was pushing for a 10-year ban against PokerStars and parent company Amaya. PokerStars itself, alongside in-state partners like the Morongo and San Manuel tribes and Commerce, Bicycle and Hawaiian Gardens cardrooms, wanted regulators to make the decision, but appeared willing to accept a five-year penalty or $20 million payment in lieu of it.

    In June, an online poker bill passed through the State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. It was the furthest an online poker bill had ever gone in California. Then Assemblyman Adam Gray, author of the bill, introduced amendments supporting a five-year ban for persons that took bets in California after Dec. 31, 2006. Depending on how the language in the amendments was interpreted, it may have also included a lifetime ban for operators that did the same.

    Neither side seems happy with it. PokerStars went from calling the tribal coalition obstructionists, to standing in the way of the online poker bill itself.

    The bill never made it through Assembly, Senate, or came anywhere close to making it to the Governor’s desk.

    The year 2016 started with the Horse Racing industry, Tribal casinos, and online poker operators all on different sides of the online poker issue in California. It ended much the same way.

    2015

    In many ways, 2015 is similar to the story of 2014, with the notable difference that political attention to the issue of online poker began earlier in the year and appears to have greater force behind it.

    There are currently two primary competing visions for online poker in California – AB 9 and AB 167 – both of which sit with the Governmental Organization Committee in the Assembly.

    There is an additional legislative vehicle for online poker in the Assembly: AB 431, sponsored by Assemblyman Adam Gray and co-authored by State Sen. Isadore Hall. AB 431 is currently a “shell” bill, meaning it contains little in the way of actual details or language.

    You can read more about and track each bill using California’s online legislative information system.

    As in past years, the key divisions revolve around who is eligible for licensure as an online poker operator.

    2014

    In February 2014, two online poker bills were announced.  SB 1366 would allow online poker only.  It included a bad actor clause that would forbid any company from operating in the state if it took action from U.S. players after December 31, 2006.

    AB 2291 was a similar bill.  One difference is that the bad actor clause was left open for future debate.

    On April 23, 2014, the California Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization held a hearing to discuss online poker.  Topics included the history of online poker in the U.S., testimony from executives involved in the regulated industry, as well as views from tribal and commercial gaming companies.

    The hearing appeared to be a positive for the online poker industry.  One opponent of gambling in general was cut off from his speech.  Andy Abboud, VP of Government Affairs for Las Vegas Sands, had his company’s motives questioned by the committee.  All members of the committee that spoke appeared to be educated about the online poker industry.

    Prior to 2014

    Online poker has been an issue in California for nearly a decade at this point. The state has seen numerous bills prior to the handful currently circulating in Sacramento.

    Six bills in the past had been introduced but failed to pass in the California Legislature.  Those bills were the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2013, SB 51, SB 678, SB 1463, SB 40 and SB 45. These bills would have  legalized, regulated and taxed online poker in California.

    Is online poker legal in California? Read more about that complex question in this feature article.