California online poker bill expected to pass Appropriations, but road ahead remains unclear

Consensus Might Not Be Necessary To Pass An Online Poker Bill In California

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To use the terminology of Rincon councilman and California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) Chairman Steve Stallings, a “fully cooked” online poker bill will be presented to the California Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

The bill, which passed the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee in April, is expected to pass Appropriations.

This despite facing opposition from a shrinking, but politically powerful coalition of tribes, led by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Appropriations passed a two-page online poker shell bill over the same group’s protestations last year, but the shell bill was never amended or expanded, nor was it brought to the Assembly floor for a vote.

Supporters are more optimistic when it comes to this year’s comprehensive online poker bill, AB 2863, which recently received several amendments designed to address any remaining issues.

Supporters and opponents draw lines in the sand

The new AB 2863 addresses all of the major concerns that have stymied online poker progress in California, namely:

  • Bad actor/suitability language
  • The role of the horseracing industry
  • Licensing and taxation rates

Despite its completeness, not everyone is sold on the bill, but it has garnered an unprecedented level of support.

A coalition made up of tribes, card rooms, the horseracing industry, and unions sent a joint letter of support to the legislature on June 10.

Earlier in the day, a much smaller coalition comprised of six gaming tribes spearheaded by Pechanga and Agua Caliente, sent a letter of opposition.

With no consensus yet reached, discussions between stakeholders and lawmakers continue to take place, and according to a legislative source privy to the negotiations, Assemblyman Adam Gray continues to remain open to any additional suggestions. At the same time, he intends to move forward with the legislation.

AB 2863 continues to pick up supporters

Amidst these ongoing negotiations, the coalition supporting AB 2863 has continued to grow, and to gain impetus.

“The June 7 amendments put forward by chairman Gray have added momentum to the process,” the legislative source told, citing the growing coalition now supporting AB 2863.

In addition to the aforementioned letter of support signed by a coalition of 21 tribal, card room, racing, and union entities, the source also noted the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians had put forth a letter of support for AB 2863 on Monday.

This is notable as Sycuan had been part of the Pechanga coalition in the past, and more recently the tribe has been neutral toward the bill throughout the process.

The legislative source also said one or two additional gaming tribes, and perhaps card rooms, that have been sitting on the sidelines may come out in support of the bill in the near future.

Suitability a key, but not singular stumbling block

Also according to the legislative, the Pechanga coalition made it clear that it still does not agree with the suitability standards, including the moving of the bright line date from December 31, 2006 to December 31, 2011, during a tribal stakeholder meeting on Monday.

In the opposition letter, Pechanga and its allied tribes also raised concerns about the current taxation rates in AB 2863.

These concerns would have derailed online poker in previous years, but 2016 might be different, for three important reasons:

  1. The coalition supporting online poker is larger and more diverse, and includes the horseracing industry and unions.
  2. In 2015 the bill was merely a placeholder, whereas in 2016 the bill is a finished product that legislators and stakeholders have worked long and hard on.
  3. Legislators might be coming to terms with the fact Pechanga and its allies are going to oppose any bill it doesn’t have complete control of.

Is a near consensus enough?

With the Pechanga coalition remaining steadfast in its demands, rumors are starting to swirl that the bill might move forward over its protestations. Additionally, the motives behind the coalition’s opposition are coming under fire, with the term obstructionist being bandied about.

Some see the tribal coalition using its political clout, and the fact that the bill requires a two-thirds majority to pass the legislature, to profess it’ll “kill the bill” if need be.

But, with the two groups at what seems to be a loggerhead, and after a decade long stalemate, something has to give. The supporters of the bill appear ready to challenge Pechanga’s political muscle.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have 100 percent agreement in California,” the legislative source told OPR. “There’s a lot of entities involved in gaming in California, based on the size and number of truly legitimate players.”

“At some point if you’re at 80 or 85 percent agreement, you just might move forward.”

Image credit: Joseph Sohm /

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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