Steve Ruddock California online poker bills die officially

Efforts to legalize online poker in California suffered a significant but not mortal setback last week when a legislative deadline came and went.

Even though California’s legislative sessions run for two years (the current session is 2015-2016), the rules state that all bills introduced in 2015 had to pass their house of origin before January 31, 2016.

All four of California’s online poker bills introduced last year failed to meet this deadline, and are now dead. But hope is not entirely lost. There are still two potential paths forward for a California online poker bill in 2016.

What happens next?

Because the California Legislature failed to act on any of the four online poker bills that have been more or less collecting dust in the California Assembly and Senate for several months – there hasn’t been legislative action on any bill since hopes were raised this past summer following Adam Gray’s AB 431 passing two committees – the legislature is now down to just two possibilities if it intends to pass an online poker bill in 2016.

Option #1: Reintroduce the bill before the next deadline

The legislative calendar in California allows for the reintroduction of any of the four bills (or a new one for that matter) up until February 19, 2016.

The most likely candidates to reintroduce their online poker bills are Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (AB 167) and Assemblyman Adam Gray (AB 431). Both men have continued to discuss online poker through the fall and winter, and Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer’s AB 167 was originally scheduled to be part of a poker/DFS/sportsbetting hearing held earlier this year before it was eventually pulled.

The other two bills are less likely to be reintroduced.

Despite being the first-mover on the issue during this session, Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s bill, AB 9, has received the least amount of attention, and his advocacy for online poker seems to be waning.

The fourth bill, SB 278 (a carbon copy of Adam Gray’s AB 431), was introduced in the Senate by State Senator Isadore Hall III, but Hall has basically written off online poker as he preps for a Congressional run, and according to a report in GamblingCompliance [paywall], “legislative sources said that Hall, who will seek election to Congress this fall, has distanced himself from the web gaming issue for fear that his continued involvement could alienate prospective donors to his congressional campaign.”

Option #2: Legislative manipulation

As I explained in this column from 2014, the California legislature has plenty of procedural tricks at its disposal if at some point legislators feel like partaking in some online poker bill necromancy, most notably something called gut and amend.

Gut and amend allows legislators to take any active bill they’ve sponsored, and essentially erase it and replace it with a new bill. This procedural tactic does require the “new” bill to pass both chambers, as if it was starting from square one.

If an online poker bill isn’t reintroduced by February 19, and there is a late online poker push, this will likely be the workaround that the legislature turns to.

Slim chances a CA online poker bill gains traction in 2016

I’m bullish on the chances of an online poker bill being reintroduced in 2016, but I’m extremely bearish when it comes to its potential to gain any momentum.

Without beating a dead horse, the state’s stakeholders have yet to reach anything resembling a compromise on the two or three key issues that have stalled online poker over the past several years. More on those issues can be found here, and a potentially deeper, underlying reason online poker has remained out of reach can be found here.

Furthermore, DFS has leapfrogged online poker in California, as the former seems the less controversial of the two measures. While this has certainly raised the ire of online poker advocates because the tribes have decided to stay on the sidelines, DFS is simply an easier lift for the legislature at this point in time – evidenced by the near unanimous support Adam Gray’s DFS bill has received thus far.

And finally, 2016 is an election year, and considering the usually high turnover rate in the California Legislature, the chances that any of the lawmakers up for reelection want to step on the toes of any powerful lobby or special interest (be it, racing and unions, card rooms, or tribes) just to pass an online poker bill are pretty slim.

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.