California Online Poker Gridlock Remains Firm

Amid the mild political congratulations traveling around the pokersphere this week in the wake of California Assemblyman Adam Gray’s AB 2863 bill successfully passing its first committee vote, a darker truth quickly emerged: The battle over PokerStars’ potential reentry into the California online-poker market remains as heated as ever, and it’s a major roadblock to future movement of AB 2863 in its present form.

california-quarterLast year, a number of pieces appeared in the poker media suggesting a rosy future for “consensus” legislation was at hand, and while I quietly hoped that such might turn out to be the case, I quietly scoffed at the notion that this was the new reality of the situation. Unfortunately, being cynical usually turns out to be the correct choice, and that’s how the California situation is shaping up: Just the same as the old stalemate, with only the playing field itself shifted a bit.

OnlinePokerReport’s California beat writer, Dave Palermo, hustled to get the new, old reality exposed in a piece published on Friday at OPR.  What Palermo found, after speaking with representatives of the hardline, Pechanga-led coalition that has targeted PokerStars from the outset, is that their real attitudes haven’t changed a bit.

Instead, AB 2863 was allowed to pass from Gray’s GO Committee onto the full California state Assembly simply so that these hardline tribes can start the PokerStars bashing anew, in a forum where Gray’s and co-sponsor Reginald Jones-Sawyer’s compromise positions hold less sway.

“They refer to him as an obstructionist, but where would tribes be today if Pechanga and the others hadn’t stepped in and made their voices heard?” an anonymous Pechanga-based source told Palermo, referring to the actions and statements of Pechanga chairman Mark Macarro. “We’d have an online gambling industry with the race tracks and an unscrupulous operator; an explosion of legal gambling well beyond what was intended by the voters and public policy.”

That’s a whole lot of politicizin’ in a single quote, for sure. There’s a mild denigration of the “race tracks” plus the clear swipe at the supposed “unscrupulous operator,” meaning Stars. And Macarro himself, who was one of several stakeholders who testified before the GO committee, was quoted as saying, “Offshore sites that broke the law should not be rewarded with a competitive advantage over law-abiding tribes and card rooms.”

Position-wise, that’s as clear as it gets. But for icing on the cake, here’s a quote Palermo got from tribal lobbyist David Quintana: “We will allow it (AB 2863) to move forward, for the sake of permitting good faith discussions. But we just want to make it clear that unless the ‘bad actor’ issue is cleared up, we will oppose this bill – with all hell and fury – if it’s not fixed by the time it gets to the Assembly floor.”

Pechange indeed took no official position on AB 2863 as it was being voted on by Gray’s committee. The Agua Caliente tribal nation, one of Pechanga’s partners in the ongoing anti-Stars effort, did oppose the bill in its current form unless it is amended. Rest assured that Pechanga’s opposition will be brought forth fully during AB 2863’s continued Assembly vetting.

Is Pechanga’s Macarro really an obstructionist, a word that reportedly makes him bristle? The answer is no, t least not in the literal, most absolute sense. Yet Macarro, Pechanga, and Pechanga’s tribal partners wield the obstruction threat as a tool here to further their own desires. If they don’t get exactly what they want – and that’s language within AB 2863 that somehow bans PokerStars without being illegal or unconstitutional – then they’re quite happy to accept the status quo instead.

If there’s one group consistently getting short shrift in California, it’s the poker-playing consumer. There’s no reason that California, one of the US’s most progressive states in addition to being the most populous, shouldn’t already have regulated intrastate online poker. Except for greed that is.

Greed that’s self-serving isn’t good at all, and yet that’s what we continue to see in California.

This isn’t about the the consumers at all, Pechanga’s pandering about alleged “unscrupulous” operators notwithstanding. For the record, the original PokerStars was one of the most scrupled and consumer-friendly of all online-gambling sites ever created. Instead, as is usually the case with these things, it’s a case of claiming to represent the consumer’s interest while really caring about nothing more than lining one’s own pockets.

As we’ve written before, Californians deserve better. And as we’ve also written, they may not get it.

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