Today marks the official end for the possibility of online poker legislation passing in California this year. The 2015 California legislative session comes to a close on Sept. 11.
Of course, it was obvious the door had shut when an online poker hearing was pulled in July and then not rescheduled for August.
The only bill in position to move was Assemblyman Adam Gray's AB 431, a shell bill which never was filled in with details. Representatives for Gray confirmed that the bill will not be seeing any last-minute movement, and it wouldn't matter if it did since there is no Senate bill in position to follow. Gray's camp said his bill will be back when the legislature reconvenes in January.
The year began with four online poker bills in the California legislature and the hope that this, the seventh year regulation has been discussed in the state, would finally be the one that the state's gaming entities agreed on proposed language.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who introduced one of the bills, stated that he thought there was a 50-percent chance of legislation passing this year. By the end of February, after holding meetings with all the interested parties, his optimism had disappeared and he revised his projection to a 35-percent chance for an online poker bill to pass in California by the end of 2016.
Three hearings regarding online poker were held during the year, but very little new came out of them. The action was driven by the Assembly, as State Sen. Isadore Hall showed no interest in pushing his legislation this year. Without a consensus from gaming interests, there was no point.
The biggest moment of the year — Gray's bill being passed by the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee to mark the first time online poker has received a positive vote in the state — was a hollow victory.
It only happened because Gray didn't introduce his bill with an urgency stipulation so it needed to advance from the committee to stay alive, and the reason it could pass was that it was an empty bill that didn't side with either of the two factions. Even then, he had to postpone the hearing to give himself more time to appease concerns of one side and get the votes.
The two main issues splitting the factions at the beginning of the year — participation of the horse racing industry and a bad-actor clause aimed at keeping PokerStars out of the market — remain the two main issues splitting the factions at the conclusion of the session.
The biggest change was that three of the 13 bands of Indians who requested the exclusion of horse racing and PokerStars last year (Rincon, Pala, and the United Auburn Indian Community) switched sides and said they would accept the participation of horse racing and not seek a bad-actor clause.
That created a stronger faction along with San Manuel, Morongo, Amaya/PokerStars, Caesars, and the card clubs Commerce, Hawaiian Gardens, and The Bicycle to go against the 10 remaining bands, led by Pechanga and Agua Caliente, that insist on limiting the market.
There was a moment of interest at an otherwise repetitive hearing in June when Pechanga chairman Mark Macarro offered a compromise to share revenues with the racing industry, which could also participate as affiliates, if they gave up the pursuit of operating licenses. Although there might be a way for racetracks to maximize profits without actually operating a site, the offer was summarily rejected by industry leaders.
With no hope for a compromise, Assemblyman Gatto gave up on his bill for the year in July, canceling a scheduled hearing in the Governmental Organization Committee. Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer held out hope until August.
With both sides entrenched in their positions, seemingly no urgency among many of the gaming establishments to commence with online poker, and lawmakers receiving little indication from their constituents that online poker is an activity they want, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Gatto revise that 35 percent figure down again early in 2016.
Image courtesy of FreeImages.com/Matt Aiello.