Steve Ruddock online poker California coalition showdown

It’s becoming increasingly apparent the numerous stakeholders in the California online poker debate are never going to reach a consensus on the two key issues they are currently debating.

For two years, the three sides have dug in their heels and refused to give an inch on the (current) key points of contention: bad actor clauses and the role the horseracing industry should play.

This stalemate has many wondering if there is indeed a path forward for online poker in the Golden State in the foreseeable future. Most feel there is not.

However, a recent article by veteran journalist Dave Palermo indicates that two of the three factions in this fight, the Morongo/PokerStars coalition and racing/labor, may be ready to officially join forces and call the Pechanga coalition’s bluff.

In early June, I intimated that this showdown was looking more and more likely, as a compromise type of negotiation was simply never going to happen. Neither side wants to concede on any of its core issues, so the only path forward for online poker in California is to go against some of the stakeholders’ wishes.

The Pechanga coalition

Pechanga and its eight or so tribal allies are in favor of language in the bill that would exclude PokerStars via a bad actor clause and also preclude racetracks from applying for online poker licenses – although Pechanga is willing to cut a revenue sharing deal with racetracks.

It should be noted that the Pechanga’s willingness to cut horseracing in as part of a revenue sharing is the biggest concession made by either side.

The Pechanga coalition has repeatedly stated that “no bill is better than a bad bill” – not a good sign for future concessions.

The coalition of the willing

According to Palermo, the state’s other factions are all essentially on the same page.

There is the Morongo/PokerStars coalition, horseracing and labor unions, and the Rincon/United Auburn/Pala coalition. This coalition is open to racing’s involvement and has no desire to place a bad actor clause in the legislation.

Racing lobbyist Robyn Black told Palermo, “This is the biggest coalition yet behind Internet poker,” adding, “If we get consumer groups, you’re going to see the coalition grow. If it isn’t a success in 2015 it will be a force in 2016.”

There is also a growing awareness of the issue among the general public – a public that favors legalization.

According to Palermo, this push by the “Coalition of the Willing” will likely begin on August 17, when the state legislature returns from its summer recess.

Missing from either side are the state’s numerous card rooms and as Black pointed out, consumer protection groups.

What are the chances this works?

The question with this tactic has always been, will it work? Is there enough political muscle to ram a bill through – a bill that needs a two-thirds vote to pass, mind you – without Pechanga signing off?

So will it work? Most analysts don’t think so.

Some scoff at the idea that a bill would even be brought up for a vote, let alone pass, without Pechanga’s approval. Other analysts and industry veterans I’ve spoken to merely consider it highly unlikely.

What is the fallout?

A second question should also be asked. Will it hurt to try and fail?

The answer to the second question is it depends.

There is nothing to lose in terms of where online poker stands by trying to pass a bill without Pechanga. Next year the legislature will certainly look into it once again.

Furthermore, considering the inflammatory rhetoric being used on both sides, trying to force-feed an online poker bill on Pechanga isn’t going to increase the rift. The rift is already there.

What it could do is shake up the power rankings of the different coalitions.

If the Coalition of the Willing is unable to get a bill brought to the floor for a vote, or if the bill is resoundingly voted down, it could strengthen Pechanga’s position in future negotiations, as the tribe would be extremely confident that nothing would pass the legislature without its approval.

On the other hand, an online poker bill is brought to the floor and the vote is fairly close, it may cause enough concern within the Pechanga coalition that some member tribes would switch sides (a la San Manuel, Rincon, Pala, and United Auburn) or that the Pechanga coalition would acquiesce on some of its steadfast positions.

Steve Ruddock
Steve Ruddock - Steve is one of the most recognizable names in the online poker media space. He brings his deep knowledge and equally deep well of opinions to his coverage at