New Bad Actor Language Is Expected To Emerge In California

California Online Poker Bill May Be On Assembly Agenda Soon, But What Are Its Chances?

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Does online poker legislation have a chance to pass in California this month? It depends on whom you ask.

One one hand, there is the normal amount of pessimism and realism: California, while it has made progress this year, does not have the impetus or compromise needed to get the bill to the finish line.

There is also a fair amount of optimism: The online poker bill, despite its problems and opposition, could become law in 2016.

Where’s the truth? We likely won’t find out until the legislature passes a bill or adjourns.

Where the California online poker bill stands

Without handicapping its chances, here is where things sit with the online poker bill.

AB 2863 is currently on the Assembly floor. It has been there since June, when it was passed out of that chamber’s Appropriations Committee.

After a summer recess, the legislature is back in action for August; it will likely adjourn on Aug. 31.

So far, the bill has only been considered in the Assembly; to become law, it would need to be:

  • Voted up by the Assembly;
  • Make it through committee hearings in the Senate;
  • Pass a full vote in the Senate;
  • Be signed by Governor Jerry Brown.

That’s a short time for the second and third steps to take place, especially if the Assembly doesn’t take up the matter quickly. But it’s not impossible.

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Any compromise on the bill?

The last time there was action on the online poker bill, a coalition led by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians was at least proposing what it termed as a compromise on suitability language for online poker operators. (So-called “bad actor” language has remained the biggest sticking point in the bill during this legislative cycle.)

The proposed amendments from that coalition dealt with sites that accepted US players after the UIGEA took effect in 2006:

  • Sites would have to wait 10 years to be licensed in California AND
  • Sites would have to pay $60 million to enter the market after the 10 years is up.

That proposal is mainly aimed at PokerStars, and appears to be a non-starter in getting the bill passed.

Chatter has been circulating that new bad-actor language — yet another possible compromise — will be added to the bill in the very near future. The L.A. Times reported that the bill could be active on the floor as soon as Monday.

Is there really compromise this time?

The language in the to-be-introduced amendment will be a signal as to whether the bill has any chance this year. If it’s unpalatable to either side, everyone can probably pack it in for 2016.

Is the amendment going to be the silver bullet that everyone can agree to? That remains to be seen. But there’s this from California and tribal gaming analyst Victor Rocha:

There are also rumblings that the proposed compromise won’t break the deadlock in California.

And there’s also a question of whether the bill will go anywhere in the Senate.

The Senate side of the equation

Even if the Assembly passes the bill — and that’s a huge “if” — the online poker bill faces a brand-new world in the Senate. Legislation has not been seriously considered in that chamber, even if its members are somewhat familiar with the issue.

Given the fact that the bill has languished in the Assembly over the years, expecting quick movement in the Senate might be far too optimistic.

And, the Senate doesn’t seem to have a lot of momentum to pass the bill either. More from the L.A. Times:

Addressing other bills on vices, (California Senate leader Kevin) de León said Wednesday that he is in no hurry to approve the legalization of Internet poker and fantasy sports sites in California. …

Asked if he wants to put a regulatory system in place to allow fantasy sports games, De León said he was “not in a rush for anything.” He made the same comment on the Internet poker bill.

That certainly does not sound like someone who is interested in pushing a gambling expansion through his chamber in under a month. If everyone is on board — including the coalition now opposing the online poker bill — could that change? Perhaps.

Still, just getting a bill through the Assembly this year would be a victory, and a building block for 2017.

If nothing else, online poker in California in 2016 isn’t dead quite yet.

Image credit: trekandshoot /

- 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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