No Online Poker Bill Likely in California

For the first time in five years Rep. Reggie Jones-Sawyer (l.) won’t be offering an e-poker bill in the California Assembly. He thinks he needs to give the highly controversial bill a chance to cool off before dusting it off again.

With the deadline to file bills rapidly approaching there appears to be little likelihood of the California legislature taking up online poker this year.

For the first time in five years Rep. Reggie Jones-Sawyer won’t be authoring a e-poker bill.

If online poker has been killed, the hand holding the knife appears to belong to a coalition of powerful gaming tribes called the “Morongo Coalition” which wants PokerStars to be allowed to operate in the state, because it has a business arrangement with the largest online poker provider in the world and an opposing tribal “Pechanga Coalition,” which doesn’t want to let PokerStars in the market, because its members don’t have a deal with it.

Jones-Sawyer told Online Poker Report: “The process was very contentious, and some people still need some time to heal. The best thing that came out of those discussions was the fact that we were discussing it. People were very open and honest about their feelings for online poker. I think we provided, here in our office, a safe place to express their feelings.”

He added, “This would not be a good year to put something controversial in. I think the ability to work out something next year has a bigger chance if we do some of the come-together healing things right now.”

Jones-Sawyer said that lawmakers are keenly watching the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court might lift the ban on sports betting. If that happens, he hopes the two issues could be bundled into a bill.

In anticipation of such an action, Rep. Adam Gray, who is also known for introducing gaming bills year after year, proposed a bill that would put to the voters whether to amend the state constitution to allow sports betting.

However, without the online poker bill dominating the discussion, another powerful coalition of tribes have moved to block any gaming bills until the state acts on their growing frustration with a lack of enforcement of state law that forbids banked games at the state’s 66 cardrooms.

That includes action on online poker and sports betting.

At the California Nationals Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) meeting in February, several tribal leaders said it is time to sue the state. They point out that the compacts all of them have with the state guarantee exclusivity on most form of gambling.

At the recent ICE London 2018, Debbie Thundercloud, chief of staff of the National Indian Gaming Association told attendees about Indian gaming and the vast array of compacts between states and tribes.

“Some of those contracts may be exclusivity clauses, so that’s where it complicates how sports betting might get rolled out in the United States within tribal gaming, because those tribes have exclusive jurisdiction within those states to have gaming and there may be commercial forces that want to participate in that, but because of those exclusivity clauses it makes the political dynamics a little bit different,” she said.

She added, “In terms of the National Indian Gaming Association and our sports betting efforts, I am overseeing a work group that has looked at some of the opportunities and challenges that face Indian country, in terms of approaching the sports betting market.”

NIGA plans to hold regional meetings to educate gaming tribes so that they are armed with information as they decide whether to get involved in sports betting.

Some observers of Golden State politics have ventured another theory about why online poker and now sports betting are dead in the water: some tribes privately oppose them as possible threats to brick and mortar casinos, but don’t want to show their hands.

They point out that every time it looked like a deal was going to be reached on e-poker that a new issue emerged to complicate it.

As Steve Ruddock of U.S. Poker wrote in 2016: “Whenever a potential solution is put forth the coalition not only finds fault with the current proposal, but starts raising questions about other aspects of the bill. The coalition frustratingly keeps calling for more discussions—more discussions on an issue that has been debated for 10 years.”

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