Tribes ready to put brakes on any gaming expansions during dispute with cardrooms in CA

California Online Poker Legalization Effort Appears To Be Dead Before It Even Begins In 2018

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For the first time in more than a decade, California will not be considering an online poker bill in 2018. However, online poker may be tied with sports betting for a 2019 push.

With Friday’s deadline for the filing of regular bills approaching, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer told Online Poker Report that, after a year of little progress with tribal gaming interests in the state, he will not be reintroducing his legislation to legalize and regulate online poker.

Jones-Sawyer first got involved with the issue in 2014 and had sponsored a bill each year since. This will be the first year since 2007 that California doesn’t consider online poker legislation.

The assemblyman is hoping that the US Supreme Court decision for Christie v. NCAA on the future of federal sports betting law will reignite the online poker bill next session.

“It is active because the Supreme Court ruling will make it more viable,” Jones-Sawyer said of online poker’s stagnation. “That’s what is happening now. We will get there, we just may go through a different door than the traditional one. Sports wagering raises all tides.”

More cooling needed in California

Although he reintroduced his bill (A 1677) in 2017, Jones-Sawyer laid out from the beginning that he had no intention to move the bill. He called it a year to heal after a heated conclusion to 2016.

Assembly Governmental Organization Committee chair Adam Gray grabbed hold of the bill that year with the intention of finally getting online poker regulation done. He made significant progress on key issues, but it all collapsed like a house of cards when he tried to push through resistance at the end of the session.

Jones-Sawyer indicated that he believes there was some progress made in mending hard feelings, and that Gray was brought in to be part of the discussion.

“There’s been a little progress in that area,” Jones-Sawyer said. “ We’ve gone through extensive research and a really robust discussion talking to proponents and opponents. The process was very contentious, and some people still need some time to heal. The best thing that came out of those discussions was the fact that we were discussing it. People were very open and honest about their feelings for online poker. I think we provided, here in our office, a safe place to express their feelings.”

The tribes now have a different target of their wrath that threatens to derail any gaming issues. As detailed this week by Online Poker Report‘s Dave Palermo, tribes are fed up with the decades-long third-party system that allows cardrooms to circuitously bank table games.

“There’s some other issues with tribes and cardrooms that probably need to be resolved before we can move forward with this thing,” Jones-Sawyer said. “I’m hoping we resolve some of that this year.”

Sports betting could open door

Like many states, California has begun preparing for the possible ramifications of the Supreme Court overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that prohibits a full menu of state-sponsored sports betting to all states except Nevada.

Assemblyman Gray introduced ACA 18, which proposes to amend the state constitution to authorize the legislature to permit sports betting if a change in federal law occurs.

Jones-Sawyer doesn’t believe the sports betting bill will move this session, even if the Supreme Court ruling is favorable. Palermo’s article indicated that tribes are opposed to sports wagering, or at least are maintaining opposition as leverage in their fight against cardrooms.

“We don’t expect a ruling until June, so I think timing would indicate next year,” Jones-Sawyer said. “I’d like to think we can move that fast, but this is California. If we have a favorable ruling in June, we’ll have the fall to work on any legislation beginning in 2019. It also gives us time to get opponents and proponents to work together to comply with the federal ruling.”

If there is a push to legalize sports betting, Jones-Sawyer hopes online poker can either be combined with it or ride on its coattails.

“I haven’t made a determination if his goes first and I follow behind or if we do a joint bill, but the possibility is being considered,” Jones-Sawyer said.

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California falling behind

When California began exploring online poker in 2007, it was at the forefront of the issue. Now it is being left by the oceanside. Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania have all passed bills to regulate online poker, and New York and Michigan online poker may well be next, while California looks hopeless.

No state has taken as many steps backward on online poker, but Jones-Sawyer is staying optimistic.

“I think, ultimately, the good thing to come out of waiting is we will learn from other states that have passed it and figure out a better way to get it done,” Jones-Sawyer said. “Even though other states started ahead of us, I believe not only will we catch up but pass them in a short period of time in terms of the amount of revenue, and the system we set up will be much better than any other state.

- Matthew began writing about legislative efforts to regulate online poker in 2007 after UIGEA interfered with his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker while working as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News. Covering the topic for Bluff Magazine, PokerNews and now Online Poker Report, he has interviewed four U.S. Congressmen and 40+ state legislators. His poker writing has been cited by The Atlantic, and Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men's Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and
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