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A Look Into California’s Confusing Online Poker Landscape

Posted on by John Lathram

California PokerDespite 2015 beginning with a strong possibility for legalized online poker in California, year’s end has brought about more disappointment.

The state of California has a long history of being more liberal than most other states in the US. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that so many people were under the impression that this past year would bring about legislation that would allow for the legal operation of online poker in California state. Unfortunately, that much has not come to fruition.

This year’s failed batch of legislation began back in December of 2014 when Mike Gatto, a democratic representative from Los Angeles, introduced a bill aimed at outlining and establishing a workable online poker platform in the state. His hope was that, by introducing the bill last December, both sides of the argument would have ample time to work out their differences.

Working out their differences is something that did not happen, as tribal poker operators vehemently opposed the establishment of online poker in California by companies such as PokerStars. Pointing towards PokerStars’ well-documented violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, tribal operators claimed that this company and others like it would do more harm to the state than good. The coalition of Native American casino operators, which became known as Pechanga, very much opposed allowing operators like PokerStars into the state’s proposed online poker system. In addition, Pechanga also opposed the ambitions of California’s many racetracks, who also feel as though they should have some involvement in any legalized online poker endeavor.

A short while later, in February of this year, the Western Indian Gaming Conference was held and many people were hoping that this would be the perfect opportunity for compromises between native tribes, racetracks, and any other hopeful participants. No compromises were made, however, and the year immediately got off to a slow start.

At the conference, Senator Isadore Hall and Assembly member Adam Gray introduced yet another bill aimed at aiding the establishment of online poker in California. The Hall/Gray bill, however, did not have as much of an impact as was hoped due to its lack of specific language. The bill was intended to be very vague and serve as a vehicle for both sides to reach agreements on issues that they could never agree upon in the past. Allowing for participating parties to “fill in the blanks” of the bill, this piece of legislation was ineffective to say the least. The bill ended up being nothing short of a complete failure and really only served to further divide disagreeing parties rather than bring them together.

In the immediate aftermath of this bill’s failing, PokerStars began building up its own reputation in California by establishing the “Californians for Responsible iPoker” group. This group along with a star-studded cast of spokespeople traveled to card rooms all across the state in order to speak about the importance of regulated online poker. Many are looking at PokerStar’s outspoken support of regulated online poker in California as a means of sweet-talking the population into allowing their online services to be offered in the state. PokerStars has a lot of sweet-talking left to do, however, as the site is not in the good graces of the US government.

As we look ahead to 2016, people are not very hopeful that online poker will become anything other than a dream. At this point it seems as though the state and its many potential poker operators are caught up in disagreements that are preventing any bit of legislation from getting off the ground. Tribal communities feel as though their many years of experience in the gaming industry mean that they are the only ones suited to offer legal poker, while big companies who have been in the industry for many years feel exactly the same. Despite both sides wanting to reach the same goal, they are working against each other and causing the whole legislative process to crash and burn over and over again. There is some hope that the framework for legalized online poker in California will be established at some point this year, but that much does not seem very likely at this juncture.

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