Steve Ruddock online poker CA bills legislation

The announced changes to California Assemblyman Adam Gray’s online poker are now available, but if you’re looking for specifics you’ll be sadly disappointed. The bill remains concise and vague, offering little insight into what the legislation proposes to do other than regulate online poker in the Golden State.

Back in February Gray, along with State Senator Isadore Hall III, introduced identical bills that would legalize online poker in California, AB 431 and SB 278. The bills were called “compromise” bills at the time, designed to find the middle ground between California’s increasingly polarized gaming interests.

When they were introduced the bills were simply an overview, describing online poker expansion in glowing terms, but lacking any of the specifics of Mike Gatto’s AB 9 or Reggie Jones-Sawyer’s AB 167.

Despite its competition from the more detailed proposals noted above, and its classification as a “shell bill,” it was Gray’s AB 431 that was brought before the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee (which Gray happens to chair) on April 27, marking the first time an online poker bill was voted on by a California committee.

Prior to the hearing, the Pechanga Tribe and its allies opposed the bill, but some last minute amendments appeased the powerful tribe and they took the official stance of “neutral” towards AB 431.

With no tribal opposition, and with racing and card rooms backing AB 431, lawmakers were free to support Gray’s bill, and the measure passed unanimously.

However, there were many caveats, and several mentions of the bill’s “shell” status as the legislators on the GO Committee who voted to send the bill to the floor left themselves an “out” should they decide AB 431 no longer tickles their fancy if and when it loses its “shell” status.

Unfortunately, the amendments that swayed the Pechanga Tribe and their coalition weren’t made available until this week.

Amendments? What amendments?

The amended version of AB 431 does little to clarify the policies the bill will call for.

What the amendments did do was leave the door open for AB 431 to become more favorable to the Pechanga coalition’s stances on racing and bad actor clauses, while at the same time not angering the Morongo/PokerStars coalition or California’s racing industry.

Two specific changes to the wording of AB 431 seem to have eased Pechanga’s concerns:

Change #1

The addition of the phrase “to qualified entities” was added to the text in regards to who would be allowed to operate an online poker site in California.

This change could lead to exclusionary policies down the road that would preclude PokerStars and/or racetracks from applying for a license, if and when specifics are introduced, of course.

Change #2

A second change saw the removal of California Gambling Control Commission and the California Department of Justice as the entities that would be responsible for regulations. These entities were replaced by the more generalized phrase, “regulated by the state.”

What it all means for online poker in CA

These changes made it possible for AB 431 to move through the GO Committee.

And for the first time in California’s five-plus year history with online gambling, not a single voice of opposition from the state’s gaming interests spoke out against the bill. As noted above, Pechanga and its allies were neutral on the bill.

The problem is, when specifics are revealed California’s gaming interests will fall right back into the hard-line positions they have staked out.

The procedural vote that allowed the bill to pass through committee in order to meet a legislative deadline aside, little progress on the issues that have hampered online poker expansion in California has been made.

The amendments were not added as a compromise measure. The bill is so generalized as it is presently written that it could go either way on the two key issues: PokerStars and racing.

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 CaliforniaOnlinePoker.com.