Steve Ruddock Is California online poker in play

Online poker was rumored to be one of the issues the California Assembly would discuss and possibly vote on prior to legislature’s scheduled summer recess.

The state’s online poker bill, AB 2863, was the most complete piece of online poker legislation the state had put forth to date, as it offered a solution to every issue that has prevented previous efforts from passing.

Still, the solutions are anything but copacetic with the state’s varied gaming stakeholders.

One big, and several smaller issues still remain

Several fiscal details in the bill continued to raise eyebrows in different corners (from the $60 million concession to the horse racing industry, to the licensing and taxation rates it imposes). The bad actor compromise was thoroughly rejected by a group of seven tribes, led by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

At the same time that the rumored floor debate and vote were being bandied about, a letter written by the Pechanga coalition stating its concerns with the bill put forth a compromise proposal.

The coalition said the compromise represented “a significant concession from our longstanding position of permanent disqualification of assets used in illegal activities and provides a pathway for offshore service providers to access the California market.”

This “compromise” was universally believed to be a nonstarter.

The proposed compromise drew the following response from PokerStars, via Amaya’s Vice President of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser:

“It is a shame that obstructionist forces continue to block the passage of a pro-consumer online poker bill in California. We finally have real progress this year, with the majority of gaming tribes supporting the legislation, along with the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Teamsters, horse racing tracks, card rooms and gaming operators.

“Unfortunately, a recent amendment to AB 2863 is unconstitutional and our opponents seem intent to expand upon that flawed and unconstitutional language.”

Alas, with a sizable rift between the two sides still present, the floor debate never happened.

According to Gambling Compliance’s Chris Krafcik, the two sides couldn’t even agree on the chances the bill had to be introduced on the assembly floor:

Without the necessary support to pass the assembly, the bill was pulled and the legislature went on their summer recess.

Time is of the essence

The California Assembly and Senate will return Aug. 1, and will have until Sept. 1 to pass any legislation, according to the legislative calendar.

If the legislature is going to act on online poker (it’s unclear at this time if it will revisit online poker this year), it will have to do so sooner rather than later, as another important deadline will be reached on Aug. 19.

That’s the last day bills can be amended, and despite the general completeness of AB 2863, it’s unlikely it would be passed in its present form — not only because of the divisive suitability issue, but because tribes and card rooms on both sides have expressed concerns with the taxation and licensing fees, as well as the amount of the stipend earmarked for horse racing.

All of this considered, online poker legalization is an extreme long shot this year, and what small chance it does have of passing will likely require many more compromises and amendments.

Bill unlikely to pass without Pechanga’s support

The only other path forward for AB 2863 would be to try to pass the measure over the protestations of the Pechanga coalition.

With the “coalition of the willing” stronger than ever, this option has been hinted-at in recent months, as a number of online poker supporters grow increasingly frustrated with what they’ve termed obstructionist tactics by the Pechanga coalition.

This might have a chance of working if AB 2863 could be passed with a simple majority vote, but because of the bill’s tax and revenue implications it falls into the emergency category, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

According to reporting by Dave Palermo, the bill was a dozen votes short of that threshold when it was pulled from the schedule in late June. Twelve votes may not seem like much, but with 80 assembly members, the current tally would be 41 in favor and 39 opposed, with the bill needing 53 affirmative vote to pass.

It would be an impressive feat if the legislature returns next week with the necessary votes to pass AB 2863.

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.