California Online Poker: Latest News And Analysis

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As the most populous state in the US, California would represent the country’s largest market for regulated online poker. Unfortunately, a complicated political landscape has so far kept legalization out of reach. Fortunately, California players can play casino-style online poker to redeem cash prizes at the promotional social poker website Global Poker.

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California Online Poker

Read the latest California online poker developments below, and scroll down for a synopsis of the status quo for legal online poker in California.

California Online Poker Legislation

The states’ various potential stakeholders, which include tribal gaming, nearly 100 licensed card rooms, and the union-backed horse racing industry, have taken hardline positions on several key issues.

The three key issues are:

  • The capability of state regulators to oversee the industry.
  • The role the state’s horse racing industry should play.
  • The potential licensure of PokerStars.

Current Outlook For California Online Poker December 2022

California doesn’t appear to be any closer to legalizing online poker than it has been in recent years when a lack of consensus over so-called bad actor language stalled progress. There were no bills introduced in the most recent California legislature.

The fact remains that for any California online poker bill to make headway, the deep divide between the PokerStars and Pechanga coalitions over the bright line for suitability would have to be bridged. Someone is going to have to budge. Thus far, neither side has shown a willingness to do so.

Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be a strong appetite for online poker in CA anymore, although it does remain a potential source of new revenue in the state.

Background For California Online Poker

California’s efforts to pass online poker legislation extend back to 2008. Suffice it to say, progress has been minimal.

The primary difficulty has been crafting a bill that appeases all stakeholders, of which there are many. California’s gambling industry consists of nearly 100 licensed card rooms, tribal casinos, and a union-backed horse racing industry. Each has taken a hardline position on several key issues. This, coupled with each group’s political clout, has ensured that all online poker bills crash and burn.

The status quo appears to be preferred over an imperfect bill in many of the stakeholders’ eyes. That’s not to say progress hasn’t been made. However, it’s essential to put this progress in the proper context.

California’s Attempt To Regulate And Legalize Online Poker

In February 2017, Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer introduced legislation (AB 1677) to regulate and legalize online poker in California.

Under the bill:

  • Card rooms and approved tribes would be able to offer online poker to those of legal age.
  • Racetracks would not be eligible be become operators but would receive up to $60 million per year as a stipend from online poker revenue.
  • The licensing fees would be $12.5 million for seven years. This would be credited against future tax payments from online poker revenue.
  • Staggered tax rates based on total industry revenue, ranging from ~8.85 percent to 15 percent.

Unfortunately, the bill never made any real progress.

Promising Online Poker Developments Derailed

There were a series of promising developments in 2016. Ultimately, a lack of consensus on one critical issue — suitability — derailed efforts.

In 2016 a bill sponsored by Gray (AB 2863) unanimously passed a committee vote. The significant difference being the horse racing industry favored the bill, as it would be granted a substantial subsidy in exchange for sitting on the sidelines.

Gray flip-flopped on suitability language. At first, the bill set the bad actor bright line to December 31, 2011. This favored the PokerStars coalition (PokerStars pulled out of the US in April 2011). A tribal coalition spearheaded by the politically powerful Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians staunchly opposed this provision.

Then, an amendment was added that would effectively force PokerStars out of the market for five years. Now, it was PokerStars and its allies that took on the role of obstructionist.

Without consensus among the state’s two most influential coalitions, the bill could not muster enough support to justify a vote on the Assembly floor. AB 2863 was ultimately shelved.

Groundbreaking Online Poker Bills

There were four online poker bills introduced in California in 2015. Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s AB 9, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer’s AB 167, Assemblyman Adam Gray’s AB 431, and State Senator Isadore Hall III’s SB 267, which was a carbon copy of Gray’s AB 431.

2015 marked the first time an online poker bill passed a committee vote. AB 431 passed the Assembly Governmental Organizations Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee. However, it’s important to put this progress in the proper perspective. AB 431 was nothing more than a two-page shell bill, a placeholder with no specific policies for people to support or oppose, and fleeting support.

About the Author

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon is the Casino News Managing Editor for Bonus. He’s a former semiprofessional poker player and has been writing about online gambling professionally since 2014. Prior to his current position, he was Managing Editor at Online Poker Report and, before that, the GameIntel Poker Update, a subscription newsletter for industry executives. Alex provides insightful content on the regulated online casino and poker industries, with an emphasis on legislation, regulation, responsible gambling and business strategy. His writing about poker has earned him multiple nominations for the American Poker Awards over the years.

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