Steve Ruddock California online poker debate paused until August

The California Assembly is about to go on a month-long recess, and while it was rumored Adam Gray’s online poker bill, AB 2863, might get some time on the Assembly floor, this appears to not be the case.

According to several sources, online poker will have to wait until August, as the legislature’s summer recess is scheduled to begin on Saturday, July 2, with lawmakers not scheduled to return until July 31.

When they do, they’ll only have until the end of August to get a bill passed.

No shortage of outcomes

If the Assembly decides to tackle this very prickly issue when it returns from recess, there are no shortage of possible outcomes.

  • Online poker and daily fantasy sports could be combined, as has been the case in other states.
  • The bill could be debated on the floor of the Assembly and not voted on.
  • The bill could be debated and amended and sent back to committee.
  • Supporters of AB 2863 could make good on their covert threats to try to pass the bill over the protestations of the Pechanga coalition. If this occurs it could pass or fail.

AB 2863 faces long odds

What we do know is that the chance the Pechanga coalition agrees to anything short of total surrender is close to zero. We also know that the supporters of AB 2863 have no interest in total surrender.

To pass the Assembly, the coalition of the willing (a self-applied title some supporters of AB 2863 have adopted) would have to muster a two-thirds majority vote.

The two-thirds threshold makes passage without the support of Pechanga, Agua Caliente, and the other tribes in their coalition a difficult lift. But at this point, the coalition supporting AB 2863 doesn’t have many other options short of the aforementioned total surrender – which simply is not going to happen.

According to several people I’ve spoken with, supporters of AB 2863 are growing frustrated with the process and the never-ending stalemate, and are ready to test the Pechanga coalition’s political clout. Last year this kind of talk was laughed off, but now that the supporters include labor and horseracing in addition to tribes and card rooms, it’s being taken a bit more seriously.

Is Assembly action moot?

Another piece to this puzzle is whether the California Senate will take action on AB 2863 if it passes the Assembly. So far the only noise coming out of the California Senate in regards to online poker has been deafening silence.

In 2016, the online poker debate has been confined to the halls of the Assembly, as Adam Gray’s counterpart in the Senate, Governmental Organization Committee Chair Isadore Hall III, has decided not to jump down the online poker rabbit hole in 2016.

Hall has been active on this front in the past, having overseen online poker hearings during his time as the Assembly GO Committee chair, as well as introducing a companion bill to Adam Gray’s Assembly bill in the Senate last year.

One feasible reason Hall’s online poker support has dissipated could be that he is running for Congress this year.

While it would be nice to see the Assembly pass an online poker bill (progress is progress), I’m not sure what it means if the people voting for the bill are doing so with the clear understanding that the Senate is an impermeable firewall.

Is progress in Pennsylvania and New York creating urgency?

New York came close to passing an online poker bill this year, and the state looks like a pretty good bet to get a bill across the finish line next year.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Legislature is working on making online gaming a central part of the state’s 2016/2017 budget.

With progress occurring in other states, the chance for California to be among the first entries – and by far the most consequential – into the online gambling arena is starting to slip away.

While this may seem like little more than an issue of stature, setting up the framework for legal online poker and/or gambling early on in the process does have a number of advantages, as other states may turn to early adopters for guidance, or even piggyback off the already-established regulatory framework.

More importantly for California, if other states form interstate partnerships it could diminish what is widely believed to be the state’s key advantage, namely its vast population, which makes it an ideal partner.

Currently California is avoiding any talk of interstate partnerships, but player pooling is the way of the future, and it would be a shock of California abstained from such agreements in perpetuity.

This is especially true if New York and Pennsylvania team up with the New Jersey online gambling industry and several other states all join together. States that legalize online poker in the future would likely find joining such a network more appealing than partnering with California.

In the end, waiting to pass an online poker bill could diminish the state’s ability to enter into beneficial deals with other states.

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.