Steve Ruddock California online poker suitability

Whenever the topic of US online poker legalization has been discussed, the spotlight shone brightest on the country’s most populous state. But California’s maddening inability to pass an online poker bill has seen attention shifting to the legislative efforts in Pennsylvania, New York, and even Michigan.

With the focus moving to the east, far less attention is being paid to the current happenings in the Golden State — which might actually be a good thing.

The belief that California is the key to unlocking online poker in the US has been shelved. In turn, the state’s lawmakers and stakeholders now have an opportunity to hammer out an agreement in what should be a far less stressful environment.

Why was California in the online poker spotlight?

California has been exploring online poker legalization for a decade, but the poker community only really started paying attention after a 2011 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinion paved the way for states to legalize and regulate different forms of online gambling.

Ever since the OLC opinion, the poker community has engaged in an annual California watch.”

The group hangs on every update and rumor coming out of the state, and holds out hope that “this could be the year.”

California deserved this position of prominence for a couple reasons:

  1. For a while, California was not only the best candidate to pass a bill, but also the only legitimate candidate.
  2. California’s population of nearly 40 million is seen as one of the only self-sustainable online poker markets in the country.

However, for all of its potential, California has been a difficult nut to crack.

A lot of pieces to arrange on the game board

California’s gaming industry is complex, to put it mildly.

The state’s moving parts include:

  • A state lottery
  • A horse racing industry
  • Nearly 100 licensed card rooms
  • Dozens of tribal casinos

The state also has a bifurcated regulatory structure overseen by its governor (the California Gambling Control Commission) and its attorney general (the California Bureau of Gambling Control), not to mention that each tribe has its own tribal regulators.

Nothing short of perfection will do in California

One of the biggest hurdles the state must clear is the required supermajority to pass.

Because an online poker bill would have tax implications, it needs a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature to pass.

This requirement makes it incredibly difficult to get enough lawmakers on board if even one of the politically powerful stakeholders or coalition of stakeholders opposes the bill.

So unlike in New York or Pennsylvania, where the legislature could overcome a dissenting voice or two, in California it’s a matter of convincing lawmakers their vote won’t upset politically powerful gaming interests in their district, not to mention their constituents.

In no uncertain terms, the California Legislature has to craft a near-perfect bill that every major stakeholder can get behind. This is an achievement that has so far eluded lawmakers.

The suitability situation

Progress has been made on virtually every important issue save one: suitability.

The suitability debate revolves around whether the state’s regulators should determine if online poker providers are worthy of licensure, or whether this should be tackled within the legislation (with suitability predicated on predetermined benchmarks for licensure).

This “perfect” bill is going to be a difficult lift, but in my opinion it will have a better chance of being worked out if the people involved are given a little space.

Disagreements could be more easily overcome without the hypersensitive gaze of supporters and opposition forces hanging on every new development.

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