Reggie Jones-Sawyer Introduces New Online Poker Bill in California


California could become the next state to regulate online poker if Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer can get his bill advanced.

California online poker players have been down this road before. Over the last decade, the state has debated the merits of legalizing online poker, but each year efforts have come up short leaving players out in the cold.

In 2017, it appears legislators are once again ready to give legalizing online poker a shot after California Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer introduced the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act late last week.

Jones-Sawyer has pushed for online poker in recent years and under this most recent proposal, California would legalize and regulate online poker, allowing approved tribes and card rooms to offer online poker to anyone over the age of 21 that is located in the state. Under this proposal, card rooms and tribes can apply for a seven-year internet poker license at a cost of $12.5 million, part of which is credited against future taxes.

Over the years, California has made progress in some areas in the fight for online poker, notably getting the horse racing industry to sign on to last year’s proposal by Assemblyman Adam Gray that provided a subsidy to the industry.

This agreement is continued in the bill put forth by Jones-Sawyer. Racetracks would not be eligible to operate online poker sites under the bill, although they would receive an annual stipend, 95 percent of the first $60 million collected each year.

One aspect of Jones-Sawyer’s bill that may trip up the proceedings is the lack of ‘bad actor language.’

Legalizing online poker in California has largely stalled due to continued disagreement over the licensing suitability of PokerStars. This bad actor issue remains the biggest hurdle standing in the way of preventing the state’s tribes from getting behind any online poker proposal.

The prospect of allowing PokerStars to operate in the state has split tribes in supporting the legalization of online poker. Just last year, the bill from Gray passed in a state committee. But the legislation failed to find traction on the Assembly floor. While American Indian casino tribes conceded in agreeing to legalize online poker, it came with the stipulation that PokerStars not operate in California for at least five years.

In Jones-Sawyer’s bill, the licensing of PokerStars will be left up to state regulators, which may not be enough detail to give this bill any chance of passing.

California becomes the latest state to make a push for legalizing online poker in 2017. Pennsylvania and New York appear poised to approve online poker legislation, while other states, such as Massachusetts, are also considering online gaming legislation.