Steve Ruddock CA online poker stumbling block

For the 10th consecutive year, the California legislature is expected to explore legalizing online poker.

But will 2017 be any different than the failed efforts from 2008 to 2016?

Who will introduce online poker bills?

During the 2015-16 session, a handful of online poker bills were introduced:

  1. Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced AB 9 in December 2014, ahead of the 2015-16 legislative session.
  2. AB 167 was introduced by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer in January 2015
  3. Assemblyman Adam Gray, the chairman of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, introduced AB 431 in February 2015. A companion bill, SB 278, was also introduced in the Senate by Senator Isadore Hall III, who chaired the GO Committee in the State Senate. These bills were merely two-page placeholders.
  4. Gray returned with a revamped online poker bill in February to replace the placeholder bill, AB 431. The new bill, AB 2863, was the most comprehensive bill of the session and the first to tackle the thorny horse racing issue.

The most likely sponsor of an online poker bill in 2017 is Gray. He was the driving force behind online poker in 2015 and 2016, and he chairs the all-important GO Committee.

However, Gray’s shifting allegiances (from the PokerStars coalition to the Pechanga coalition) at the end of the session may have hurt his standing in some stakeholders’ eyes.

It should also be noted that Hall III is now out of the picture. He didn’t seek reelection, choosing to run for Congress instead. This means Hall’s GO chairmanship in the Senate will be up for grabs, which is an important chairmanship for online poker.

Despite introducing an online poker bill in 2015, Hall more or less avoided the issue after announcing his congressional run. It will be interesting to see if Hall’s successor takes a more proactive approach to online poker legalization in the Senate or is content to let it play out in the Assembly.

Will 2016’s progress carry over to 2017?

One of the biggest questions heading into 2017 is whether the numerous agreements and compromises reached in 2016 are still amenable to the stakeholders.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that the stakeholders are still in agreement when it comes to the horse racing subsidy and the licensing and taxation rates, or whether they will want to start over and try to negotiate an even better deal for themselves on these fronts.

The answer to this question will determine whether the debate will start from scratch in 2017, with these issues being revisited and debated, or if it will essentially pick up where it was left at the end of 2016, with one outstanding issue remaining: suitability, a.k.a. PokerStars.

Basically, will California be rerunning the entire marathon or just the last couple miles?

Suitability remains the key sticking point

If the tribes, card rooms, and racing industry are still content with the compromises from 2016, then it’s a matter of resolving their differences on the issue of suitability.

In 2016, both sides tried to steamroll a favorable bill through the Assembly, and both times the votes weren’t there to pass it. Because of its fiscal ramifications, the online poker bill requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers to pass.

Before the summer recess, a bill that would allow PokerStars to apply for a California online poker license if it paid a one-time fee of $20 million was a dozen votes shy of passing, according to sources.

When the legislature returned from recess, Gray did a complete 180 on the suitability issue. Gray amended the bill with a clause that would keep PokerStars out of the market for a period of at least five years  — the Pechanga coalition’s position. Once again the votes simply weren’t there to pass it, according to sources. The Assembly never voted on the measure.

Without a solution to the suitability issue, which will seemingly require nothing short of complete capitulation by one side or the other, it’s unclear how an online poker bill passes in California in 2017.

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.