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California To Have Online Poker Hearing This Month

Tribal Gaming Insider Says Hearing Will Aim To Move Bill Out Of Committee

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An amended online poker bill in California will have a hearing by the end of April, a tribal gaming insider told Card Player. The goal will be to move it out of committee.

Steve Stallings, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, said that the legislation from Assemblyman Adam Gray, which was introduced in February, is “set to move ahead” and that Internet poker legislative efforts are “as close as [they’ve] ever been,” despite insider trading charges against the former CEO of Amaya Gaming, parent company of PokerStars.

PokerStars is in a California online poker coalition that includes the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the United Auburn Indian Community, the Bicycle Casino, Commerce Casino and Hawaiian Gardens Casino. So-called “bad actor” provisions were considered a moot point because PokerStars was licensed last year in New Jersey, but the charges against David Baazov last month create a “difficult hill to climb” for the brand, Stallings said.

“It does raise if not red flags, caution flags,” Stallings said. “It does raise issues of corporate governance.”

Still, California tribes are prepared for competition in the online poker space, he said.

In April of last year, a different version of a bill from Gray advanced out of committee. It was the first and only time California lawmakers have voted on an online poker bill in at least six years worth of efforts. However, the state’s 2015 online poker hopes were deemed over by September.

California is the nation’s no. 1 tribal casino gambling market with roughly $7.3 billion in gaming revenue in 2014. That’s about 25 percent of the nationwide tribal casino gambling market.

“The resurgence of poker as a viable online game depends on California,” Stallings said. “One more hurdle [from PokerStars] does make it more difficult.”

The California online poker market has been estimated to be worth nearly $400 million a year. While there are 60 tribal casinos in the state, there are nearly 100 brick-and-mortar facilities statewide that offer poker. Despite the large market for poker, the state could likely only support 6-10 unique online poker operators, according to Stallings.

In addition to the bad actor issue, whether or not California racetracks should be allowed to offer online poker is the other big roadblock in the Golden State. Gray’s bill calls for the tracks to receive up to $60 million in revenue sharing per year from online poker operators, in exchange for not being in the space.

Though California could compact with another jurisdiction for online poker, the bill would first limit the games to those 21 and over and physically within the state’s borders. Additionally, in exchange for regulated online poker, players on unlicensed offshore sites could be subject to a felony charge under the current version of the bill.

Image via Pixabay.