Include Racing Industry for California Online Poker, Says PPA

July 29th, 2014 | by Greg Shaun
A California online poker bill would have a better chance of passing by including the horse racing industry, according to PPA head John Pappas.

California’s horse racing industry wants to be part of any online poker bill, and the PPA is riding along. (Image: Matthew Stockman/Getty)

One of the ongoing mantras about the difficulty of getting online poker to work in California is the fact that there are just so many different players involved in the gaming industry there. There are the card clubs, which offer some of the biggest poker rooms on the world along with more intimate venues. There are the Native American casinos that also want a piece of the action. And then there are the horse racing tracks, which were once considered part of the online poker equation, but lately seem to be an afterthought.

That’s something that some analysts believe might need to change if there’s any hope of passing online poker legislation in the state. Among those is Poker Players Alliance (PPA) executive director John Pappas, who thinks the inclusion of the racing industry may be the most important factor in ultimately reaching a deal. He believes even the contentious “bad actor” clauses aren’t as damaging as the exclusion of horse racing from the process.

Current Proposals Exclude Racetracks

“I think some level of compromise can be made on the bad actors,” Pappas said during the Global iGaming Summit and Expo in San Francisco last week. “From what I can tell, those differences can be resolved. Anyone who says that’s the reason it isn’t happening is using it as an excuse. But saying the horse racing tracks can’t be a part of the market whatsoever doesn’t leave any room for compromises.”

But that’s exactly where the current state of proposals stands in the Golden State. The online poker bills currently sitting in the State Assembly and Senate may or may not have a chance at getting a serious look this year. But either way, they could provide language that serves as a basis for future bills, and right now, they would exclude the racetracks thanks to clauses asked for by a coalition of 13 tribal groups in the state.

Industry Vows to Stop Any Bill Including Tracks

That’s a change from previous years, when bills had included the horse racing industry as potential operators of online poker sites. But that’s no longer the case, and that could lead to the industry and its allies doing everything in their power to stop such a bill from passing.

“A horse track representative spoke at the conference and made it clear that they still have powerful allies in the Assembly and Senate, and that it would be wholly unacceptable to have a bill that excluded them,” Pappas said. “Some tribal representatives made it clear that it’s wholly unacceptable to them that the tracks be included. Without some accommodation made, the bill will probably sit shelved.”

The tribal demand for the exclusion of racetracks may well be a move to limit the competition as much as possible. The same tribes have demanded that a “bad actor” clause be included in any California legislation on Internet poker, a move that would mostly work to keep PokerStars out of the market. The online poker giant does have three large poker clubs and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians on its side, however, and Pappas said that opinions on the company may be softening since their acquisition by Amaya Gaming.

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