California Online Poker Dreams Continue to Be a Nightmare


Online poker players in California are probably going to be waiting longer for regulation – but who’s at fault?

Barring an eleventh hour miracle, California’s latest attempt to pass an online poker bill appears to have suffered the same fate as the state’s previous efforts that date back nearly a decade.

Late amendments to Assemblyman Adam Gray’s bill, AB 2863, did a good job of changing the playing field by appeasing the concerns of the tribal coalition headed by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

But the key amendment, which added harsh suitability language that prohibits PokerStars from the market for at least five years, failed to increase support, and was, at best, a wash. It brought Pechanga and its allies on board, but the coalition of tribes and card rooms aligned with PokerStars switched from supporting the bill to opposing it.

Close but no cigar

For the past two years, Assemblyman Gray has been tirelessly working on finding online poker compromises between the state’s varied stakeholders that would overcome their concerns and lead to a bill that could pass the legislature. Throughout the process Gray seemed very amenable to PokerStars point of view, which is to say, suitability should be largely left up to regulators.

Gray was also tasked with solving the vexing horseracing conundrum; which he accomplished earlier this year by including a hefty subsidy for the industry in exchange for racing dropping its demands to operate online poker sites.

By the summer, Gray had cobbled together an unprecedented coalition of supporters, that included the PokerStars coalition, horseracing and labor unions, and a long list of tribes and card rooms. Only the Pechanga tribal coalition remained in opposition to the bill. But, because the bill requires a 2/3 majority in both houses of the legislature, that opposition was more than enough to block the bill.

With no path forward for the PokerStars-friendly version of the bill, Gray went back to the drawing board.

Gray’s dangerous gambit

Gray may have taken PokerStars to the prom, but at the end of the night he left with Pechanga. this is a decision Gray may come to regret, as the new version of the bill seems no more likely to pass than the previous version.
It’s unclear why Gray decided to pivot and adopt the Pechanga position.

Perhaps he thought the PokerStars coalition possessed less political clout than its rivals, and switching them out with the Pechanga coalition would secure the necessary number of votes to pass the bill. Or, perhaps he thought the PokerStars coalition was as frustrated as everyone else and might splinter. Or, perhaps lobbying efforts by Pechanga were effective.

Regardless of the reason, when online poker talks begin anew in 2017, there is going to be far more skepticism from the principles involved, as Gray appears to have tried to steamroll both sides at different points in the process.

The frustrations have also boiled over into the poker community, with the Pechanga coalition and the PokerStars coalition labeled obstructionists for their opposition, along with some members of the poker community turning on the Poker Players Alliance for the group’s forceful backing of PokerStars’ position.

Looking ahead to 2017, frustrations could grow even more palpable.


    • Politicians wonder why we dont vote. Its because our voice dont count. Tribes, Casinos, Horse racing, etc. What about us?The people? The majority of us want online poker. Who speaks for us? Only anger and frustration exist. You will regret this America.