Who is Obstructing iPoker in California?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Lynn "Queen of Hearts" ParisLynn “Queen of Hearts” Paris

After reading our brief August 20th blog, by “Pocket Bullets” Paris about the status of online poker legislation in California, I decided to take a closer look at what was really going on in our home state. After all, CA is ahead of the curve in so many areas (think legalized marijuana, for example) it’s hard to believe they can’t muster the votes to legalize iPoker. How hard could it be?

Pechanga Resort and CasinoWell, it turned out to be harder than anyone imagined. One of the reasons is that the powerful proponents of the bill – AB 2863 (introduced by Democratic Assemblyman and Chairman of the Governmental Organization Committee, Adam Gray) – and the powerful opponents of the bill have done a last-minute role reversal.  For as long as anyone can remember, the major stumbling block to getting an online poker bill passed was the alleged stranglehold on poker revenue enjoyed by a tribal coalition consisting of seven tribes, spearheaded by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. By many poker fans and enthusiasts, they were viewed as hard-line “obstructionists.”

In a statement issued in June, the head of corporate communications for Amaya (owners of PokerStars) said: “It is a shame that obstructionist forces continue to block the passage of a pro-consumer online poker bill in California.”

Poker Payers AllianceThe Poker Players Alliance* (PPA) also got involved, especially on Twitter, where members made obstructionist claims against the Pechanga-led coalition in tweets like these:

@ppapoker – This is worth repeating. Some tribes don’t want you to play iPoker & no amount of compromise will change that.

@ppapoker – CA Tribes who oppose current Gray bill claim not be “obstructionists” but hard to believe that when they continually move the goal posts.

@ppapoker  – The tribes are and always will be obstructionist when it comes to online poker. Pure, venal, unenlightened self-interest.

However, at the last minute, Chairman Gray introduced an amended AB 2863. Although Gray maintained that it still had the votes to pass, it never went up for a full Assembly vote.

Why? Because those amendments turned out to be highly controversial, favoring the Pechangas. In fact, one source stated last week, “Chairman Gray and his team handed his drafting pen to the Pechanga coalition.” (source: Flushdraw)

PokerStars OnlineSpecifically, the bill always contained suitability language to handle previous “bad actors” (such as PokerStars) to sit out for five years or pay a one-time hefty fine.  But, according to Amaya, owner of PokerStars, the revised bill didn’t provide a path to negate the five year sit-out period and contained language that would prohibit certain assets indefinitely. (After paying $4.9 billion to acquire Stars and Full Tilt, this didn’t sit well with Amaya, which had worked very hard, and successfully to restore PokerStars’ reputation in the U.S.)

Well, turnabout is fair play. Now it was PokerStars’ coalition (which includes horseracing, labor unions, several tribes, and over a dozen card rooms) that was extremely unhappy, calling the amendment a “poison pill.”  With the Pechangas supporting AB 2863, it’s PokerStars and its allies (including the PPA) that are being labeled obstructionists and being criticized on Twitter:

@PPA – The CA online poker bill’s new “bad actor” amendment harms its prospects for passage by turning powerful tribes & card rooms against it.

@PPA – ICYMI, @PokerStars is now trying to block California online poker legislation if it’s not on their terms

@PPA-Where’s the @ppapoker letter writing campaign to demand @PokerStars stops acting against the interest of Californian poker players?

Various big names in the industry have called the bill’s prohibition of PokerStars, “punishment by legislation.” Attorneys have noted that the amended bill is not only unconstitutional, but would lead to the loss of millions in revenue for the state, as one of the global leaders in the industry would be left on the sidelines.

In a nutshell, it looks like a temporary win for the Pechangas, whose goal has always been to keep PokerStars out of the market. Conversely, PokerStars isn’t trying to keep anybody out; they’re simply fighting for the chance to apply for a license in order to compete.

The bottom line is that Californians lose again; there’s no legal online poker in the cards for the Golden State in 2016. All can we do for now is to keep you posted on this issue as often as we can, and whenever we can break away from the tables.

*The Poker Players Alliance (theppa.org) is a nonprofit membership organization comprised of over 1,000,000 online and offline poker players and enthusiasts from around the United States who have joined together to speak with one voice to promote the game and to protect poker players’ rights.

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