Marty Derbyshire california poker bill

California will not legalize online poker in 2018. In fact, state lawmakers won’t even consider an online poker bill for the first time in more than a decade.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer has personally sponsored an online poker bill every year since 2014. Now, Jones-Sawyer tells Online Poker Report he will not reintroduce online poker legislation this year for several reasons.

Firstly, 2017 came and went with very little progress made on the issue with tribal gaming interests. Secondly, the assemblyman now looks to tie online poker together with sports betting to pass a bill legalizing both in 2019.

Online poker and sports betting

New Jersey has tried to legalize sports betting inside its borders since 2011. However, legal challenges from major sports leagues across the country shut the state down. Last year, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear New Jersey’s case challenging the federal law prohibiting sports betting almost everywhere outside of Nevada.

The highest court in the land heard oral arguments in December. Since that time, other states across the country have lined up to pass sports betting legislation that would move forward if the Supreme Court rules in New Jersey’s favor. Experts expect a decision in June.

Jones-Sawyer now anticipates a favorable decision for New Jersey and will push California lawmakers to act on sports betting. The assemblyman told Online Poker Report he never had any intention of moving on the online poker bill he introduced in 2017.

Moreover, Jones-Sawyer called 2017 a year of healing after a heated conclusion to 2016. That’s when contentious regulation talks stalled around the issue of operator suitability. Stakeholders could not agree on penalties for offshore operators that previously accepted US customers.

Jones-Sawyer now sees “a little progress in that area” after extensive research.

Tribal gaming interests vs. California cardrooms

Tribal gaming interests in the state have now shifted to the issues surrounding banked table games at California card rooms.

Such rooms are only allowed to spread traditional casino games, like Blackjack, when they are banked by a player. However, several card rooms have been accused of skirting the law by employing prop players to bank the games. Tribal casinos protested such action, claiming it infringes upon their exclusive rights to offer traditional casino games.

Jones-Sawyer said these issue need to be resolved before both sides get back to the table on online poker. He also aims for that resolution to happen this year.

In the meantime, Assemblyman Adam Gray, a key figure in the push for online poker legislation in 2016, introduced a bill that would authorize sports betting if and when the federal law is changed.

A glass-half-full approach

Jones-Sawyer said he doesn’t believe the bill will move this session, even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of New Jersey. In fact, he believes the discussion on sports betting legislation will happen in 2019. At that point, online poker can ride its coattails or mesh with it.

Jones-Sawyer remains optimistic legal and regulated online poker will eventually come to California:

“I think, ultimately, the good thing to come out of waiting is we will learn from other states that have passed it and figure out a better way to get it done. Even though other states started ahead of us, I believe not only will we catch up but pass them in a short period of time in terms of the amount of revenue, and the system we set up will be much better than any other state.”

Marty Derbyshire
Marty Derbyshire - Martin Derbyshire is a veteran of the world of poker and gambling, having worked as a reporter, producer, and editor in the industry for more than a decade. He has traveled the globe interviewing high-profile personalities and contributes to a number of publications, including,, and