Online Poker in California—Maybe in 2016

Another legislative session and another disappointment for backers of online poker in California after Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (l.) threw in the towel. There is still no bill everyone can agree on, and only two months remain before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

Hopes are dimming for legal online poker becoming a reality in the Golden State in 2015 after Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer pulled his enabling legislation from a July 8 hearing.

With little progress made by the various stakeholders on the most contentious issues—so-called “bad actor clauses” and the role of the state’s racetracks prominent among them—experts see little chance of either of the two extant bills winning passage in the Assembly and Senate and making it to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk before the Legislature adjourns for the year on September 17.

Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, has said his bill will be heard before the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee sometime after August 17, when the two chambers return from summer recess.

The bill, however, is anathema to a coalition led by Southern California’s powerful Pechanga casino tribe because it lacks any type of bad actor language—that is to say any provision aimed at firewalling online giant Poker Stars for operating in the U.S. after the 2006 passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act. It also would permit racetracks to apply for licenses, which the group opposes.

A second bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Democrat representing Merced and Stanislaus counties in the Central Valley, has cleared the GO and Appropriations committees but only because it’s outlines no specific policies. Once filled out with details, it, too, is all but certain to wilt under heavy fire from various opponents, experts say.