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Current Online Poker Outlook in California: Open for state residents to play on offshore (international sites). California was expected to race states such as Nevada and New Jersey to be the first to authorize the offering of online poker by in-state sites, but battles between several of the state’s pro-poker factions have set the process back by several years.
California will eventually authorize sites and networks within the state itself, but 2016 (and possibly beyond) is now the likeliest target date in the process. In the meantime, the state’s residents are free to enjoy international online poker offerings from all sites and networks servicing US players!
California has never had any form of statute restricting the playing of online poker – or indeed, restricting any form of online gambling… making it one of the most permissive of all US states in that regard. Instead, California defaulted to federal statutes on related matters, and with the late-2011 legal opinion from the US Department of Justice, signed by Attorney General Eric Holder, that the 1961 Wire Act applies only to sports betting, Californians have nothing to fear about the legality of playing poker online.
Nonetheless, California has been among the leaders in states seeking to create a regulatory mechanism for the offering of online poker and the creation of in-state sites and networks. This hasn’t been done to clarify legality, but to create a new revenue stream for the state, which has been beset by severe budget deficits for years.
Active and frequent steps continue within California to find a way to formally authorize online poker. Here’s a summary of several of the recent developments:
July, 2007, Anthony “Tuff Fish” Sandstrom Floats Voter Initiative: California online poker player Anthony Sandstrom, who under his “Tuff Fish” moniker had previously developed a cult following for his entertaining poker videos, was granted the right by California voting officials to launch an initiative designed to place an online poker legalization referendum on the state’s general election ballot.
Despite the earnest intent and the support of many players, Sandstrom fell far short of the 430,000 signatures needed to get the referendum on the ballot. Despite falling short, the attempt helped bring attention to the possibility of California-only online poker sites and networks.
February, 2008, Levine Introduces CA Online Poker Feasibility Measure: In 2008, California State Assemblyman Lloyd Levine introduced AB 2026, a measure calling for the California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC) to launch a study as to the feasibility of the state authorizing and/or launching California-only online poker sites and networks.
Despite receiving several amendments and being debated by both the California House and Senate, Levine’s bill failed to pass, in part because it called for appropriations for the study from the state’s already tight budget. In any event, the feasibility of California-only poker rooms soon become obvious, rendering the bill’s purpose moot.
March, 2010, Senate Bill 1485 Introduced: California State Senator Roderick Wright formally introduces SB 1485, which would legalize online gambling of several forms within California, including poker. Wright had announced his intent to introduce this legislation in late 2009, though the bill’s language wasn’t formalized until early 2010. A significant series of amendments was added in June 2010, in conjunction with a California group called the Poker Voters of America.
Despite successfully negotiating two different Senate committees, Wright’s “Internet Gambling Consumer Protection and Public-Private Partnership Act of 2010” encountered increasing opposition from both anti-gambling forces and competing pro-gambling groups, and was pulled from consideration soon after at Wright’s request.
August 2010, California Online Poker Alliance Forms: In 2010, a coalition of nearly two dozen of California’s tribal nations and operators of related casinos joined to form the California Online Poker Alliance (COPA). COPA and a related entity, the California Intertribal Intrastate Poker Consortium, were formed to ready to move forward immediately in case legislation such as that proposed by Sen. Correa were to be enacted.
COPA also launched a free-to-play poker site called CalShark.com, which served both as amerketing tool for COPA’s interests and a way to gather e-mail addresses and other contact information for prospective online poker players.
December, 2010, Correa Introduces Online Poker Measure: Another take on online poker was introduced by State. Sen. Lou Correa in December of 2010. Called the “California First: The State Funding, Job Creation and Online Gaming Accountability Act,” Correa’s bill drew significant support from the state’s tribal casinos.
This first Correa bill underwent significant revision in July of 2011, one of which was to limit online poker to five state-authorized providers, each of whom would pay the state $50 million up front for as much as seven years of an exclusive market. The bill also called for the playing of poker on non-authorized sites to be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, one reason why the bill failed to garner significant player support.
Correa’s bill expired in early 2012 after failing to garner enough support to pass a full legislative vote.
February, 2012 (amendments added June, 2012), Senate Bill 1463 Introduced: California State Senator Roderick Wright makes a second try to legalize online poker in California with this bill. SB 1463 differed from Wright’s initial attempt in that it removed other online casino games from the language of the bill; online wagering on horses is already allowed in the state, and thus was neither included here nor omitted.
Despite the poker-only focus, SB 1463 was torpedoed not by anti-gambling forces, but by a pro-gambling coalition of California tribal nations demanding exclusivity over online poker. That battle continues, with the end result that SB 1463 expired later in 2012 without garnering support.
October, 2012, COPA Dissolves, CalShark.com Closes: Following the departure of its most powerful tribal members, the California Online Poker Association disbands and allows its CalShark.com free-play site to lapse.
COPA’s and CalShark.com’s demise comes after several of California’s Mission Indian tribes, led by the San Manuel and Morongo bands, withdraw their financial support from the COPA push, causing the collapse. The COPA dissolution follows the lack of progress on the pro-tribal poker bill under debate in Sacramento, leading to the state’s most powerful rooms to scrap the project and start over. COPA eventually represented 29 tribal casinos and 31 small card clubs scattered throughout the state.
December, 2012, Senate Bill 51 Introduced: CA Senator Wright tries again with the introduction of SB 51, another online-poker-only bill, his third such legislative attempt. Wright introduces the bill under as an “urgency statute,” declaring it a budgetary/revenue necessity in an attempt to fast-track through the state’s approval process.
Wright’s latest bill, called the Internet Gambling Consumer Protection and Public-Private Partnership Act of 2013, projects an annual income of $200 million through online poker for the state’s strapped tax coffers. Players would be required to be age 21, be within the state, and would have the ability to multi-table. Players would also be able to do player-to-player transfers, although that clause has been dropped from all states that have authorized online poker to date due to the complexities it raises regarding money laundering and the proper declaration of wins and losses; expect it to be among the first clauses jettisoned if this latest attempt by Wright gains traction.
February, 2013, Correa Introduces SB 678: CA State Sen. Lou Correa returned to the online-poker discussion in California when he introduced Senate Bill 678, which would add a new section called The Authorization and Regulation of Internet Poker and Consumer Protection Act of 2013 to the state’s existing Gambling Control Act.
The bill is a “placeholder” measure with little content besides its introduction, which reads: “This bill would authorize the operation of Internet poker Web sites within the borders of this state. The bill would require the commission to establish a regulatory framework for the licensure of eligible entities and the operation of Internet poker Web sites within the borders of the state.”
Correa, whose previous effort was closely aligned with the state’s tribal gaming efforts, could yet amend his bill to include language such as that used in the latest Pechanga proposal (below), though tribal spokesmen insist their proposal is separate from Correa’s latest measure.
May, 2013, Pechanga Tribal Coalition Proposes Alternate Online Poker Bill: Renewing their demands for exclusivity and sovereignty, a bill proposed by several of California’s largest and most powerful tribal bands has done little to unite the state’s various pro-poker factions. Titled the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2013 (unrelated to Correa’s bill), this bill represents the hardest of hard-line stances, though it has yet to be introduced in Sacramento, likely due to a shortage of willing sponsors.
Among this would-be-bill’s proposals: no revenue from online poker for other California city and county governments, despite all CA residents being allowed to play; a “bad actor” clause freezing out any international operators; all in-state operators other than tribes and associated commercial card clubs being excluded; a ban on “internet cafes” of any sort in California, with clauses for asset seizure; and a mandatory opt-out from any federal-level legislation.
The bill also sets a projected live date of Jan. 1, 2015, but it’s just a wet dream; it’s so exclusive and off-putting to other pro-poker interests (not to mention the state’s anti-gambling factions) that it’s not likely to win enough support to move forward within the state.