California Online Poker Bill Unanimously Passes State Assembly Committee

Posted on: April 28, 2016, 07:44h. 

Last updated on: February 20, 2017, 08:27h.

California online poker Adam Gray
California online poker moved closer to becoming reality this week thanks to Assemblyman Adam Gray moving his legislation AB 2863 through the Governmental Organization Committee. (Image:

A California online poker bill passed the State Assembly Governmental Organization (GO) Committee unanimously on Wednesday by a vote of 19-0. Authored by State Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-District 21) and co-signed by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-District 59), Assembly Bill 2863, the “Internet Poker Consumer Protect Act of 2016,” would “establish the framework to authorize intrastate Internet poker in California.”

Various interest groups attend the two-hour hearing yesterday in Sacramento at the State Capitol, and the overwhelming majority seemed to be in support of Gray’s legislation. Gray, who also chairs the GO Committee, began the meeting by stressing the importance of regulating the iPoker market to protect consumers while providing a financial benefit to not only the state but also the struggling horse racing industry.

“California needs a strong law that puts a stop to illegal online gambling, and that is what we have crafted,” Gray said.

AB 2863 would direct the first $60 million in annual revenues to the General Fund’s California Horse Racing Internet Poker Account. In exchange, horse racing venues would be barred from participating in online poker.

Following the GO Committee’s endorsing, the legislation was referred to the State Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Gray Area

Gray and Jones-Sawyer certainly left the hearing pleased, but there remains reason for concern due to the ongoing saga of what constitutes a “bad actor.” The distress stems from operators who continued marketing to US citizens after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006.

Powerful Native American leaders are divided on the issue. While lawmakers and tribal chairmen don’t like naming names, the entire matter is basically about PokerStars.

The world’s most robust iPoker platform continued operating in the US from 2006 until the Department of Justice seized its assets in 2011. Amaya acquired PokerStars and its parent organizations in 2014 for $4.9 billion.

The Californians for Responsible iPoker coalition includes Amaya and PokerStars, along with numerous influential tribes including the San Manuel and Morongo Band of Mission Indians. The alliance supports PokerStars’ inclusion in the California online poker market.

Opposite is the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians whose chairman expressed his opinion that bad actors shouldn’t be permitted back in the US because they criminally built brand-name recognition and expanded their customer bases while others respected the federal law.

Changes Required

The 19-0 vote this week would seem to represent a bill that has widespread support across party aisles, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Several lawmakers serving on the GO Committee told Gray their vote could change on the Assembly floor unless edits to the legislation’s language are made to accommodate concerns presented.

Without the endorsement of a unified Native American community, AB 2863 would likely endure the same fate as numerous bills in years past. Tribes currently hold a monopoly in California on casinos, though card rooms are permitted to operate outside of reservation territory.

Gray told attendees that he plans to meet biweekly with stakeholders to hopefully iron out final details of the proposition. Should it receive the recommendation of the State Assembly Appropriations Committee, which it is expected to garner, AB 2863 could make its way to the Assembly floor in the coming months.