Online Poker Bill That Has Stayed On Sidelines Resurfaces

California Committee To Consider Online Poker, Daily Fantasy Sports Bills Jan. 6

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California Assembly committee will consider several possible gaming measures in the state — online poker, daily fantasy sports and sports betting — in a hearing on Jan. 6.

The Governmental Oversight Committee will consider bills on all three subjects to start the new year.

Online poker in California

The most interesting development, by far, is the fact that online poker will again be considered.

AB 431 — a bill that would legalize and regulate online poker in the state — passed a GO vote in April, and it appeared that iGaming would make a real push in 2015.

That bill, however, ended up being just a shell for working on the issue, a plan that never came to fruition as momentum for the bill died.

This time around, AB 167, sponsored by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, will be considered. There had been an effort to bring this bill before the GO Committee in August, to no avail.

That bill is the first item on the agenda for the 1:30 meeting on Jan. 6, with the label “urgency” attached.

A closer look at AB 167 for online poker

AB 167 was one of three online poker bills that has been floated in the past year — this legislation was introduced in January — and by some accounts it features the approach most likely to result in success in bringing together California’s varied stakeholders. It features two key points that give it that status:

  • There is no “bad actor” provision, meaning PokerStars/Amaya could be licensed in the state.
  • Race tracks would be allowed to take part in online poker.

Those have been two of the major sticking points in online poker negotiations in California. Of course, those sticking points are a point of consternation whether they are included in a bill or not.

Some lawmakers and Indian tribes seek to keep PokerStars out of the state. And while race tracks have remained adamant about being able to offer online poker in the state, some tribes are not a fan of such a provision.

The resurfacing of any online poker bill is certainly a welcome development for iGaming proponents in the state, and likely indicates that there must have been some movement behind the scenes on online poker. But the bill’s chances for making real progress at this point are unknown.

The California DFS bill

At the same time, the GO Committee will take up Chairman Adam Gray’s AB 1437 — the Internet Fantasy Sports Game Protection Act.

Gray drafted and introduced his daily fantasy sports bill back in September — more than a month before many states considered similar proposals. A hearing held in December was not very contentiousit was informational only in nature, and the bill itself was not considered.

The bill would put in place regulations that would give oversight to the industry, and it would also institute licensing fees and taxes on revenue that are to be determined.

Gray had said previously that he wanted to take a “thoughtful approach” to DFS, but also indicated that the bill would come up for consideration in January.

Also in play in California and DFS

The December hearing did not offer much reason to believe there will be opposition to the bill, but gaming stakeholders — tribes, tracks and cardrooms — did not weigh in there.

Tribal gaming interests have become an increasing concern for DFS legislation across the country. Given the tribes’ loud voice in the online poker debate in California, it seems hard to believe anything gets done on DFS without their perspective being considered.

Tracks in some jurisdictions have indicated a desire to be involved in the DFS industry, as well, and it may be that California’s tracks do as well.

The bill comes before the committee with the backdrop of a possible opinion on DFS being developed by attorney general Kamala Harris; GO committee member Marc Levine has been outspoken in calling for Harris to look into the legality of the industry.

If the bill comes up for a vote, it would mark the first time a bill regulating DFS — not just legalizing it — would have reached that threshold in any state.

The California sports betting bill

AB 1441 would allow sports betting in the state; that bill was also introduced by Gray in September.

However, states wanting to offer sports betting need more than to just pass a bill, as only four states are currently allowed to offer wagering because of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. That law effectively bans sports betting in the other 46 states.

The bill would legalize sports betting in the state, but only if federal law — PASPA — and the state constitution are changed to allow it.

Several states have introduced similar legislation, but they also require a change to PASPA. Also at play is New Jersey’s ongoing court battle to allow sports betting in the state. If NJ wins its case in a rehearing set for February, that could mean states like California are that much closer to being able to offer sports betting.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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