Online Poker in California Hits Another Roadblock

June 16th, 2016 | by Kaycee James
Tribal coalition stalls California online poker bill.

Online poker regulation in California stalls once again as tribal coalition talks bad actors. (Image: improveconsulting.biz)

Online poker in California is still a pipedream after the state’s Assembly Appropriations Committee failed to vote on the issue during a recent hearing.

Despite the bill’s sponsor and California Assemblymember Adam Gray stating that regulation is widely supported across the state, a handful of tribal groups appear to be stalling the action.

The June 15 was due to contain a vote on AB 2863, but a last minute change to the schedule meant the bill was simply discussed for an hour.

Tribal Coalition Flexes Its Muscles

Throwing a proverbial spanner into the works of the most protracted iGaming debate in the US was Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians chairman, Jeff Grubbe.

Opposing a recent amendment to the bill that aimed to classify a “bad actor” as any site that operated in the US post-2011, Grubbe stated that the tribal coalition want the cutoff date to be 2006.

While the debate over dates might seem like a trivial point, it actually hinges on the potential presence of PokerStars in California.

According to the tribal coalition, which is headed by the powerful Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, it would be unfair for PokerStars to get a license as it remained operational in the US post-UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act – 2006).

In an effort to try and appease the tribal opponents and negate some of the supposed advantage PokerStars, Gray amended the bill to exclude those that remained operational post-Black Friday (2011).

However, the six tribes working in unison to oppose the bill have rejected the amendment and the latest hearing is proof that the issue is one that will continue to delay a vote on AB 2863.

Amendments Aren’t Good Enough

Also discussed during the latest hearing was the proposed subsidy the California horse racing industry would receive if iGaming regulation was passed.

As it stands, AB 2863 states that the industry would receive an annual payment of $60 million in exchange for racing tracks not applying for an online poker license.

However, Grubbe told the committee that this level of funding is unacceptable and needs to be lowered if his coalition is to accept any legislation.

While the debate over funding appears to be an issue with a clear resolution, the PokerStars issue isn’t one that appears to be going away so easily.

According to the lawmakers, it’s wrong to stall an entire poker bill in the hope of excluding a single operator from the market.

In response, the tribal coalition believes that an operator which controls 70 percent of the global poker market would have an unfair advantage if it was allowed to enter the market.

Unfortunately, in among the fighting over a single issue, the bigger picture appears to be getting obscured. Online poker regulation is designed to protect both players and operators and, moreover, provide a framework inside which each can prosper.

However, as long as the battle over so-called bad actors rages on, it seems this fact will be lost and AB 2863 will remain in limbo.

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