One step forward. AB 2863, the most recent online poker bill sponsored by Assemblyman Adam Gray cleared a necessary hurdle on its way to potentially becoming a law. At the end of April, AB 2863 cleared the GO Committee. It took two months, but the California Assembly Appropriations Committee held a vote and passed AB 2863 by a score of 14-1 with 5 non-votes. This vote was initially delayed two weeks while the verbiage in the bill was changed to appease both parties.
One of the last minute additions to the bill (read AB 2863 in full here) was a clever way to shakedown PokerStars for some pocket change to appease the state and the opposing tribes. Legislators added a $20 million fee to waive the five-year grace period on any entities who fell under the bad actor clause (e.g. PokerStars). Also of important note, more language in AB 2863 was altered surrounding 10% of all gaming revenue getting kicked into California's General Fund…regardless if the horse racing industry got their $60 million subsidy. Essentially the state is saying that they get paid out first and the horse guys have to get in line behind them. Lastly, something else about taxes was included to the new changes… the $12.5 million license fee is eligible to be written off against any gaming revenue taxes.
With the new language in place, the bill easily passed the Appropriations Committee 14-1 with only 5 abstentions. The bill now heads to the floor of the Assembly, where it requires 2/3 of the votes to pass. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Yes, it's now up to the state Assembly to determine whether or not to pass the online poker bill. But there's no guarantee that they would even vote on it. Last year's attempt at an ipoker bill died at this exact stage. Although a lot more headway has been made between opponents of AB 2863 and supporters of online poker, all the recent negative stories in the media about Amaya (insider trading charges for their CEO) might have tainted this year's chances of passing. Does the collation of Pechanga and Agua Caliente tribes have enough clout to sway the votes in their favor and kill the bill? Then again, this last-minute addition of a $20 million fee (Stars would pony up in order to get a shot at the California marketplace), might be enough to get this bill finally passed.
Even if the Assembly votes yes and pass the bill, the next step would be that AB 2863 moves to the State Senate for a vote. If that passes, then the bill lands on the desk of the governor's office. Will the governor veto an online poker bill? That's also the billion dollar question. If you've seen enough movies like Chinatown, then you know a massive state like California has always had the interests of big business at heart over the interests of the people. This could be one of those instances when you hope that all the politicians involved recognize the potential for an unlimited future revenue stream for the state along with legitimizing an industry that will create new jobs in an era when good jobs are hard to come by.
The future is still unknown. Yet, let's be hopeful! Sure, it's still a pipe dream, but California is the largest state in America and the return of online poker would create a mini-boom.