The world’s largest online poker room, PokerStars, has been trying to regain its foothold in the US market ever since states were given the right to legalize and regulate online gambling activities. With a population of 39 million, California has been a prime target. Despite being poised to regulate online poker for several years running, every attempt at legislation has failed. Hope was renewed when Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced a new California online poker bill, AB 9, on the first day of the new legislative session.
In preparation for imminent legalization, PokerStars previously aligned itself with a coalition of tribal casinos and major commercial card rooms that include the Morongo Tribe, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Bicycle Club, Commerce Casino and Hawaiian Gardens. When the new internet poker bill was introduced, it came with some literature that the alliance may not look favorably upon, most notably a bad actors clause scripted to deter the licensing of PokerStars.
Gatto’s California online poker bill reads like a re-make of former proposals that ultimately failed, baring two notable modifications. First, Gatto inserted a section that would require all new players make their first deposit/withdrawal, as well as deposits/withdrawals of considerable size, either at a live casino licensed for internet poker or a sanctioned ‘satellite service center’ (smaller casinos around the state). Secondly, the bad actors clause was altered to potentially exclude operators that breached the UIGEA of 2006, even if they’ve been acquired by new management (i.e. the Amaya Gaming buyout of PokerStars’ parent company, Rational Group).
The PokerStars alliance issued a statement in response to the new online poker bill in California. The statement relayed the alliance’s commitment to work with legislators “to pass Internet poker legislation in 2015 that establishes a vibrant, competitive marketplace, provides superior consumer protections, and ensures that the state receives a reasonable return.” However, PokerStars et al reasoned that “various interests must work together if we are to be successful in establishing a well-regulated environment and the best-in-class Internet poker industry for California.”
Based on the context of the new online poker bill, the statement concluded that, “AB 9 is a rehash of previously unsuccessful proposals. Any bill that seeks to establish artificial competitive advantages for some, while denying Californians the best online poker experiences, will only serve to divide the community and will be opposed by our coalition.”
It should be noted, though, that AB 9 wouldn’t explicitly exclude PokerStars from a legal online poker market in California. Chapter 19990.406, Paragraph (7), Section(C) (i) references the eligibility of applicants that have “purchased or acquired the covered assets of an entity” that breached the UIGEA. The applicant would be eligible to obtain a license if:
“The applicant’s use of the covered assets in connection with intrastate Internet gaming will not adversely affect the integrity of, or undermine public confidence in, intrastate Internet poker or otherwise pose a threat to the public interest or to the effective regulation and control of intrastate Internet poker.”
Amaya Gaming has already proven itself worthy of a license in New Jersey, and its application for a PokerStars license is currently under review in that state. Combined with the numerous international regulators that have for years held PokerStars in the highest regard, even if Gatto’s new online poker bill does get passed, there may still be hope for PokerStars in California.