After more than ten years of debate, highs and lows, yes and no’s, California may have taken the state’s biggest step towards online poker legalization yesterday with the 18-0 unanimous passage of Assemblyman Adam Gray’s AB 2863 through the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee. While this is just the first hurdle that California online poker must overcome to see law passage in 2016, it is no doubt a solid first step that places California closer to legalization than we have ever seen before.
In recent years, the biggest opposition to poker legalization has come from the horse racing industry and regarding the “bad actor” language. According to Gray, he has declared the issue of horse racing participation settled.
“We started the process last year with two major points of contention around horse racing and the suitability issue. We’ve addressed one of those concerns in a way that’s brought together a coalition of support that we’ve never seen over the course of a decade,” says Gray.
Presuming the horse racing issue is no longer a sticking point, then the suitability / “bad actor” participation remains the lone outstanding potential point of contention. However, as part of the hearing, Gray made assurances that the suitability standards and bill language would be addressed and added in the legislation, prior to the bill leaving the Assembly.
The horse racing industry has changed its stance on supporting online poker, specific to AB 2863, as the current legislation provides a $60 million subsidy to the racing industry, in exchange for the industry forgoing their rights to operate in a regulated online poker market. In the past, the racing industry’s argument was that they were being shut out from the lucrative online gaming market. That sticking point now seems to be solved.
Barry Broad, a labor union lobbyist representing the California Teamsters and Jockey’s Guild, said the $60 million revenue stream set out in the bill “is vital for us.” He further stated, “For the jockeys, its going to mean pension and healthcare, and for the teamsters, it’s going to mean more races, which means more racing, which means more revenue, which mean more jobs.” With the suitability issue appearing to be the only remaining potential road block, Assemblyman Gray has vowed to continue to meet weekly with the California Indian gaming industry stakeholders in an effort to hammer out consensus suitability criteria for online poker operators.
Because AB 2863 is a so-called urgency bill, it is not subject to a series of upcoming legislative deadlines. However, to become law this session, the bill must pass both chamber of the legislature by August 31st. This small California step could potentially be a much larger stepping stone for the future of Golden State and the rest of the Country. As Gray stated in his closing remarks,
“The question of how to regulate iPoker has been in front of the legislature for nearly a decade. We have not rushed this process. We have taken the time necessary to thoroughly understand and respond to the concerns put firth by stakeholders. Through this process, we have created a coalition that is willing to acknowledge the problem and support a comprehensive solution. I’m as hopeful as I’ve ever been that we can get something done.”
Good luck California, keep your fingers crossed!