Steve Ruddock new online poker CA bill 2017

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. By this definition, when it comes to online poker, California is certifiably insane.

Since 2008, California has been trying to legalize online poker, and has come up short with every attempt. An online poker bill has never even been voted on by the state’s Assembly or Senate.

But a decade worth of failures isn’t deterring some lawmakers still hoping there is a path forward for online poker legislation.

First CA online poker bill introduced by Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer

California’s latest online poker effort, AB 1677, was submitted by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who represents southern Los Angeles.

Jones-Sawyer is a familiar name in the California online poker debate, having introduced several online poker bills during the past four years.

His latest effort attempts to build on progress made last year, except when it comes to the 800-pound gorilla in the room, PokerStars, and whether the company should be excluded from the market.

Picking up where Assemblyman Adam Gray’s 2016 bill left off, Jones-Sawyer’s bill uses the generally agreed-upon tax rates put in place last year, as well as the subsidy granted to the horse racing industry in lieu of tracks being permitted to operate online poker sites.

In addition to the subsidy, under Jones-Sawyer’s bill, tracks could enter into partnerships with licensed online poker operators.

However, if California is going to push an online poker bill across the finish line, it will have to solve the suitability issue, which has so far proven unsolvable.

Suitability compromise takes a step backward

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the issue of suitability. Until last year, the two camps were intractable in their respective positions.

One camp, comprised of a half-dozen or so gaming tribes led by Pechanga, favors a bill with so-called “bad actor” language written into it. This language would prohibit any company that offered online poker in California after December 2006 from applying for a license.

The other camp, which includes PokerStars and its allied tribes and card rooms, would like the determination of suitability to be made by state regulators.

Jones-Sawyer’s bill favors PokerStars’ position, as it leaves suitability completely up to state regulators. Notably absent from this bill’s suitability language is any type of fee or penalty whatsoever.

2016 saw sides moving toward middle ground

Last year, Gray seemed to be making some inroads on this front when he tried to forge a compromise between the two sides.

First, Gray tried suitability language that would have allowed PokerStars to apply for a license after making a one-time payment. PokerStars and its coalition agreed to this compromise, but the penalty wasn’t enough for the Pechanga coalition.

Gray’s attempts at finding consensus succeeded in opening up a dialogue. Pechanga and its tribal coalition countered with a proposal that would require PokerStars and other so-called “bad actors” to sit on the sidelines for five years on top of paying a one-time fee.

That both sides moved off their previous all-or-nothing positions was heartening, but in the end neither was willing to budge any further, and talks broke down.

The Jones-Sawyer bill takes a proverbial step backward, erasing what little progress was made last year and resetting suitability to its starting point.

That said, the lack of suitability language is seen as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than a firm policy position.

Image credit: AlessandraRC /

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