Reggie Jones-Sawyer California poker bill online

California State Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, whose new online poker bill is far more inclusive than previous drafts, would welcome racetracks and PokerStars into the Golden State gaming market as well. (Image:

A new California online poker bill, sponsored by State Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), is now on the table to oppose the bill introduced by fellow State Assemblyman Mike Gatto in December.

The Sawyer-Jones bill, AB 167, seeks to establish “a proper regulatory structure in place that provides safe and compliant internet poker access,” the assemblyman announced yesterday.

So how do the two new bills compare? And more to the point, how does the new Jones-Sawyer bill compare with his previous bill, AB2291, which foundered on the rocks of last year’s legislative session?

No Bad Actors

Jones-Sawyer said at the end of the 2014 session that a new, revised bill would be a high priority for 2015, and indicated that this time, the “bad actor” language would be softened. The non-severable bad actor clauses of AB229 proved to be a sticking point for stakeholders, and caused a major schism between those who wanted PokerStars in the market and those who didn’t.

Sure enough, AB 167 seems to have removed those bad actor provisions, apparently clearing the way for PokerStars to enter a regulated California market. Those precluded from applying for an online poker license, states the bill, include:

“The person [who] has contemptuously defied a legislative investigative body, or other official investigative body of a state or of the United States or a foreign jurisdiction, when that body is engaged in the investigation of crimes relating to poker, official corruption related to poker activities, or criminal profiteering activity or organized crime, as defined in Section l 86.2 of the Penal Code.”

The bill goes on to clarify a key position that could directly affect PokerStars potential entry into the Golden State market, given its previously vilified owners vs. its new, “clean slate” ones.

“The person [who] has been convicted in a court of competent jurisdiction of a felony consisting of either having accepted a bet over the Internet in violation of United States or California law, or having aided or abetted that unlawful activity.”

Note the use of the word “person,” which suggests that PokerStars, by divesting itself of its previous owners, against whom there were outstanding DOJ indictments, would be able to participate in the California online market unscathed.

Anti-PokerStars Coalition Denounces Language

The language is in sharp contrast with that of last year’s bill from Jones-Sawyer, which proposed to exclude “any brand or business name, including any derivative brand name with the same or similar wording, or any trade or service mark, software, technology, operational system, customer information, or other data acquired, derived, or developed directly or indirectly from any operation that has accepted a wager or engaged in a financial transaction related to such wager from any person in the United States on any form of Internet gaming after December 31, 2006.”

If Jones-Sawyer thinks his bill will sail through with the backing of the stakeholders, however, he has another think coming, as the anti-PokerStars tribal coalition wasted no time in denouncing this language.

“There is much for tribes to dislike about this bill,” said Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro. “We are disappointed that the bill disregards important principles from a broad coalition of respected tribes and card rooms that help prevent corporations and entities that previously violated federal law from profiting from tainted software, brands, and databases derived from illegal activity.”

Photo Finish for Racetracks and Liquidity

Other major news for AB 167 is the inclusion of California racetracks in a post-regulation landscape, which many felt had been unjustly ignored by previous bills. The sharing of liquidity with other states, expressly forbidden in preceding draft bills, appears to be on the menu this time, and there is also a suggestion that players on unlicensed sites could be prosecuted.

The license fee would cost $10 million, with a tax-rate set at 8.5 percent of gross gaming revenue. Once language has been agreed upon, the bill will require two-thirds of the vote to pass.