Online poker in California could come from any number of potential operators. There are the card rooms, which operate countless live poker games throughout the state.
There are Indian tribal groups, which have a monopoly on casino gambling in the Golden State. But there is also a third group that some have been overlooking: the state’s powerful horse racing industry.
It’s easy to dismiss the state’s racetracks as latecomers to the online poker industry who are just trying to squeeze some money out of a game that could make big money in California.
But according to Del Mar Thoroughbred Club COO Josh Rubenstein, the horse racing industry may have the best claim to online poker of anyone in the state.
“The horse racing industry has exclusivity with web-based gaming in California,” Rubenstein said in an interview with Online Poker Report. “We’ve operated it in a regulated fashion since 2001, everything from age verification to protecting the customer’s identity and making sure transactions are completed in a very timely manner. You can make the argument racing is as qualified as anyone in this forum.”
While online horse race betting is certainly very different than Internet poker, the fact that the industry has experience (and success) dealing with many of the issues that legislators are often concerned with could give the racetracks a strong argument for inclusion in any online poker marketplace the state creates. However, not everyone in California agrees that this should be the deciding factor.
Inclusion of the horse racing industry has been one of two major sticking points (along with “bad actor” clauses that could keep PokerStars from participating) for the various gaming interests in the state.
While card rooms largely seem willing to consider letting the race tracks have their place in online poker and some tribes have come around as well, others are ardently opposed to the horse racing tracks having any involvement in online poker.
Recently, one group of seven tribes made it clear in letters to Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) that they would not stand for having racetracks involved in Internet poker.
That group, including the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians, pointed out that the public has previously voted overwhelmingly to prevent racetracks from installing slot machines, suggesting that the state does not want the horse racing industry to have expanded gambling options.
That group also said they would want a bad actor clause in any legislation in order to support it, something not present in the bill proposed by Jones-Sawyer.
But without support from the racetracks, it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to get an online poker bill through the California legislature. The racing industry may not be what it once was, but it is still quite powerful in California: considering that an Internet poker bill would need two-thirds majorities in both the state Assembly and Senate, the tracks might be able to muster the votes to defeat any bill the reaches the floor.
Even if they can’t, Governor Jerry Brown has said he wants the horse racing industry to be on board with any online gambling bill that he signs into law.