The California poker bill presented by Reggie Jones-Sawyer has been attacked by the anti-PokerStars tribal collation, which has dismissed the legislation as “fatally flawed” and “not sufficient to protect the integrity of the California market.”
The coalition criticizes the decision to include the racetracks in a regulated landscape, as well as the omission of a strong bad actor clause in particular.
If you’re thinking this all sounds familiar, you’re right; we’ve been here before. Jones-Sawyers’ 2014 bill was shelved towards the end of the last legislative session, due mainly to the difficulties in getting the various stakeholders to agree on terms they could all swallow.
The state’s tribal operators are deeply divided on the issue of so-called “bad actors,” companies that offered igaming to Americans after 2006 when it became illegal to do so, and of whether these companies should be permitted to be included in a California online poker market.
Essentially, however, the bad actor issue boils down to PokerStars. The Morongo and San Manuel bands, allied with the state’s biggest card clubs, want the poker giant in as they have a commercial agreement; everyone else wants it out, because they don’t.
Last year’s Jones-Sawyer bill was adamantly anti-bad actor; this year, much less so. In its current form Bill AB 167 appears to discriminate only against individuals who have broken US gambling laws, and not companies, a fact that would appear to favor PokerStars under its new Amaya leadership.
Jones-Sawyer is keen to avoid the divisive issues that might derail the bill: “We must make sure that any ‘bad actor language’ is written so that it is applied fairly, and avoids any possible future legal challenges,” he has said.
We were reminded this week, however, that such issues can’t be tiptoed around and remain as divisive as ever. In a letter sent to Jones-Sawyer this week, the coalition tore into Bill AB 167.
“It is instructive that the State of Nevada, which is widely recognized as a leader in the regulation of gambling, also included a bad actor clause in its internet poker statutes,” the coalition said in a letter sent this week to Jones-Sawyer. “Specifically, Nevada created the classification of ‘covered assets’ meaning, ‘any tangible or intangible asset specifically designed for use in, and used in connection with, the operation of an interactive gaming facility that, after December 31, 2006, knowingly and intentionally operated interactive gaming involving patrons located in the United States.’
“AB 167 … would reward those gaming corporations that acted inconsistent with federal law and the letter of California law by authorizing them to use the fruits of their illegal conduct to obtain a license in California.”
On the subject of including the racetracks in the legislation, it said: “While AB 167 is intended to legalize internet poker throughout California, it does so by expanding poker to horseracing facilities at the expense of Tribal Nations which have a demonstrated history of responsible gaming.
“It must be noted that the voters of California have voted on multiple occasions (1998, 2000, 2008) in support of tribal government gaming and have given overwhelming approval to a Constitutional Amendment granting Indian tribal governments exclusive authority over Las Vegas-style casino gaming. By comparison, the voters have rejected expanded gaming at horseracing facilities by an astounding 84 percent to 16 percent vote.”
Despite talk last month at the Western Indian Gaming Conference in Southern California of compromise for the common good of the tribes, it’s clear that that the schism remains as deep as ever, and the chances of online poker regulation happening this year are beginning to look slim.