The state of California has come close to legalizing online poker, but ‘close’ means no cigar. Yet another bill – this now being the 11th attempt in the last eight years – and another discussion about legalizing poker was turned back last week, which left some parties pleased and many disappointed.
If there is good news these days, it’s that the powers that be in California are fighting over how to share the $1 billion poker pie and not fighting over whether it should be legal or not. However, since they can’t agree about how to share, the game must remain offline for the time being.
The latest bill, which was put forward by Adam Gray (D-Merced), suggested that poker parlors and 60 Native American tribes that run casinos would get licenses to operate online. They would have to go through background checks via the state’s Department of Justice, but after that they’d be cleared. However, the bill, which is named AB 2863, didn’t get two-thirds support in the state assembly, which meant that it won’t proceed for a vote in the final legislative session later this year.
So if everyone agrees that online poker should be legal, what’s the holdup? The issues stem from a power struggle among the native-controlled casinos. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, and the Barona Band of Mission Indians were in favor of the bill but that was not enough. And even this group only became supportive of the bill recently. Their concern – along with many others – is that this bill would allow big brands already operating in online poker to enter the market and they’re not interested in competing with them. Those concerns were allayed when the bill included a provision to ban those types of sites for the first five years.
Meanwhile, a different group of native casino are already thinking a step ahead. They’re not concerned about the big brands coming into their space because they are already forging partnerships. The Morngo Band of Mission Indians, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Commerce Casino, Hawaiian Gardens Casino and Bicycle Casino have already been in talks with PokerStars and their parent company Amaya to build a website together.
And therein lies the problem. There’s an old guard of politicians who feel that online poker shouldn’t be allowed altogether, there’s a band of power native casinos that is willing to open up the floodgates as long as outside competitors can’t come into play for a period of time, and there’s a separate conglomerate of native casinos that is already working with the outside competition on a partnership. It makes it hard to come to an agreement.
What’s foolish is that every day that passes, all of these sides lose potential revenue whether it’s the casinos losing out on poker money or the government, who could be taxing the winners and making off handsomely. Adam Gray, who is also a strong proponent of legalizing Daily Fantasy, will continue to push for a solution but the online poker discussion in California is – once again – at a standstill.