CA online poker has long been an issue without a solution

How California Can Resurrect Its Online Poker Efforts (Hint, Sports Betting Is Involved)

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Sports betting has replaced online poker as the hot topic in California, but like the prior online poker and daily fantasy sports legislative efforts, the state’s stakeholders (tribal casinos, commercial cardrooms, and horse racing tracks) are divided on the issue.

Unlike those previous efforts, the legislature not only needs to pass a bill, but the California constitution mandates all expansions of gaming pass a statewide voter referendum.

A consensus among stakeholders seems unlikely, which makes it unlikely that the legislature will manage to pass a bill before the June 28 legislative deadline that would allow sports betting to get on the November ballot.

If it wants sports betting, California needs to act fast

If California is serious about legalizing sports betting, the state is going to have to move quickly to beat that deadline. And anyone who follows California politics knows speed isn’t a commonly used word to describe the legislature.

The problem is a delay will keep legal sports betting out of the Golden State until at least 2020.

Reason being, if sports betting legislation isn’t passed by June 28, any legislation passed would have to wait until the November 2019 ballot. Under that scenario, the earliest rollout of sports betting would be sometime in early 2020.

Waiting until next year also makes passage more difficult.

Next year is an off-year election, and off-year elections tend to have fewer, but more enthusiastic voters. As a result, ballot measures tend to come down to which side can ramp up enthusiasm and turn out the most voters.

What’s the holdup for sports betting?

Unfortunately, legislative deadlines and analysis of voters and turnout are meaningless if the Assembly and Senate can’t bring the disparate stakeholders together and thread the legislative needle.

On that front, it’s pretty much the same old story in California.

In an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, California Gaming Association President Kyle Kirkland, made it clear who the state’s cardrooms feel should have a seat at the sports betting table.

“Our constitution grants tribes the exclusive right to banked card games, but does not provide anyone the right to conduct sports wagering,” Kirkland wrote.

Kirkland made several references to an inclusive sports betting model:

“Tribal casinos, horseracing, sports leagues and associations, the fantasy sports industry and payment processors also all have a strong interest in a safe, transparent sports wagering industry.


“We support amending the Constitution to allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate sports wagering for the gaming industry as a whole.”

The cardroom position is at odds with the California Nations Indian Gaming Association‘s position.

In a statement following the SCOTUS ruling, CNIGA Chairman Steve Stallings stated his belief that sports betting should be the exclusive domain of the tribes:

“We also want to make very clear that California voters have, on numerous occasions, confirmed the exclusive right of California tribal governments to operate casino-style games.  Legalization of sports betting should not become a back-door way to infringe upon that exclusivity.”

How sports betting and online poker intersect in the Golden State

A consensus might be unlikely, but unlikely doesn’t mean impossible.

There could be a way for California’s stakeholders could be brought together by a comprehensive gaming package that includes sports betting, online poker and perhaps daily fantasy sports.

As I explained in a previous column, a state that lacks support for online poker and sports betting might find it easier to combine the two measures. And in the case of California, the state might be able to increase its affirmative vote tally by tossing DFS into the mix.

This type of omnibus approach was used in Pennsylvania last year and might be just what the doctor ordered in California.

The basic idea is to put in enough things into the bill that each group wants in order to overcome the parts of the bill they don’t support, resulting in them dropping their objections to the things they don’t want.

Before you get too excited, I have no idea what California can do to accomplish that. But I’d be surprised if this omnibus approach is at least a possibility behind the scenes.

- 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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