Steve Ruddock

The introduction of a second online poker bill in California gives lawmakers two markedly different pieces of legislation to choose from, at least when it comes to the two main unresolved issues that are cited as the reasons online poker expansion in California has stalled over the years. Those two issues are the role of racetracks and whether or not the industry needs a Bad Actor clause.

AB 9, the legislation introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gatto excludes racetracks and has strongly worded Bad Actor language, prohibiting companies that operated in the United States after December 31, 2006, a clause seemingly aimed squarely at PokerStars.

On the other hand, AB 167, the newly introduced legislation by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, expressly allows racetracks to apply for online poker licenses, and doesn’t expressly prohibit PokerStars from applying for a license either.

Obviously, some people have gotten behind AB 9 and others have thrown their support behind AB 167. Here are some of the reactions from key principles to AB 167.

PokerStars Coalition reacts to AB 167

The PokerStars coalition, which includes the Morongo and San Manuel tribes, Commerce Casino, Bicycle Casino, Hawaiian Gardens Casino, and of course PokerStars and their parent company Amaya Gaming had this to say about the new Jones-Sawyer bill:

“We applaud Assembly Member Jones-Sawyer for his thoughtful approach to iPoker legislation in California which takes into account many years of input from stakeholders on all sides, including the California Department of Justice. We are still looking at the fine details of AB 167, but we are encouraged that his approach will move the discussion of online poker forward in a positive direction. The bill seeks to establish a vibrant, competitive, fully inclusive marketplace with choices for consumers that enacts strong consumer protections; requires strict oversight and regulation of operators and licensees; and ensures a financial return for the state.

“Our coalition strongly believes that – in order to be successful passing iPoker legislation that brings much-needed protection to consumers in a currently unregulated market – the various interests need to work together.  In place of previous attempts to use the legislative process to provide competitive advantages to a few operators, Assembly Member Jones-Sawyer’s bill brings parties with diverse interests together to move legislation forward.

“It’s time to move on, and move forward. We are pleased to see that Assembly Member Jones-Sawyer recognizes this. We applaud his efforts to shift the discussion in a new and hopefully more fruitful direction.”

This was a much different response than the coalition had to the Gatto bill and its strongly worded Bad Actor language, which reads in part:

“As a coalition, we are committed to working with legislators and our other partners in the gaming community to pass Internet poker legislation in 2015 that establishes a vibrant, competitive marketplace, provides superior consumer protections, and ensures that the state receives a reasonable return.

“[…]

 “Unfortunately, AB 9 is a rehash of previously unsuccessful proposals. Any bill that seeks to establish artificial competitive advantages for some, while denying Californians the best online poker experiences, will only serve to divide the community and will be opposed by our coalition.”

Pechanga chairman responds to AB 167

AB 167 is antithetical to the views of several other powerful California tribes, many of which oppose the inclusion of racetracks and all would also like to keep PokerStars from entering the market. Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro was one such person who spoke out against AB 167 in a statement that reads:

“There is much for tribes to dislike about this bill. [AB 167]

“We are disappointed that the bill disregards important principles from a broad coalition of respected tribes and card rooms that help prevent corporations and entities that previously violated federal law from profiting from tainted software, brands, and databases derived from illegal activity.

“Tribes have been steadfast in the principle that online poker be consistent with California’s longstanding public policy of limited gaming, and that means keeping it to just tribes and card rooms.  California voters have always had the final say on gaming expansion and they have already rejected expansion of gaming for horse racing.”

Agua Caliente Chairman weighs in

Another tribe that is part of a coalition opposing the PokerStars coalition is the Agua Caliente tribe, whose Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe also issued a response to AB 167:

“The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians supports limited internet gaming in a manner we believe to be consistent with the intent expressed by the voters. Our Tribal Council has spent a tremendous amount of time over the past three years working to build a broad coalition of California Tribes and card clubs on a united effort towards this goal.

“The voters have approved a constitutional amendment authorizing casino-style gaming on tribal lands with a loud YES and they have rejected an expansion of those games to racetracks by a resounding NO.

“Accordingly, we worked with Mr. Jones-Sawyer on legislation last year that would have authorized limited iPoker to licensed California Tribes and cardrooms. We built a large coalition, but ran out of time in the legislative session. We did not, and do not, support expanding gaming to horseracing facilities, nor do we believe that gaming corporations that have previously “violated federal law should be able to profit in the state of California from the use of software, brands and databases that were used for illegal activities. Furthermore, we believe that state law should provide clear standards for eligible licensees.

“We respect Mr. Jones-Sawyer, but we strongly disagree with this effort. No iPoker in California is the clearly preferable option in our view to this scheme, which will clearly divide Indian country. We urge him to not pursue this bill.”

Horseracing industry reacts

As Dave Palermo reported, the racing industry is fully on board with AB 167, not much of a surprise there. According to Palermo, Joe Morris, the President of Thoroughbred Owners of California, stated simply, “We want a seat at the table, on a level playing field,” and added the racing industry wouldn’t settle for a mere subsidy. “If there are licenses out for sites, we want a site also.”

Other reactions

As always, there was no lack of commentary from the realm of social media; here are a couple of the more insightful tweets I came across:

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.