The legislative deadline for both the California Senate and Assembly – the two bodies that form the California legislature – to pass proposed bills is quickly approaching. Once August 31 has passed, all proposed bills that have not been approved and implemented are deemed officially dead and off the table, not to be discussed again until legislation re-opens for 2015. If this occurs, it would mark the fifth year that California has discussed but ultimately failed to govern online poker. With roughly over a month remaining for California to pass one of two proposed online poker bills, California is undeniably beginning to feel the pressure to reach unanimity on a bill during this present term.
While deadlines spur action, the fear surrounding the proposed online poker bills is that too much action may, in fact, lead to inaction. With many advocates and opponents recently beginning to assert strong positions regarding their stance on the legality of and how to best incorporate online poker throughout the state, the California legislature may feel its best bet is to continuing gathering pertinent information regarding online poker while allowing the deadline to come and go. This tactic would allow more voices to be heard, with the added bonus of granting California the ability to see how recently the approved regulation plays out in New Jersey, the latest state to enact legislation governing online poker.
Contrarily, some pundits believe that there is no need for California to adopt a wait and see approach. As the most populous state, the potential online poker market, and the revenue California stands to gain from same, would surely seem to be much greater than what the other regulated markets – Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey – are capable of achieving. A study released in December 2013 estimated that online poker could create revenue up to $263 million in its first year, and could possibly grow to $384 million in the span of a decade. Such numbers would appear to be enough motivation for the California legislature to reach consensus on a proposed bill before August 31.
This past week has been extremely busy regarding online poker for the state of California. The GiGse Totally Gaming Conference was recently held in San Francisco from July 14-16. The conference featured the likes of former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown expressing their various views on online poker and how the game should be regulated. On July 15, the lipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, a San Diego County Native American tribe, announced their intention to launch PrivateTable.com, a pay-to-play online poker site for California residents. The tribe is relying on the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a federal law that states tribes can operate Class II games legally on their property, to affirm the legality of PrivateTable.com. Furthermore, on July 18, twenty-five California card rooms issued a letter to California legislators supporting online poker legislation, while also addressing a few of their contentions with the proposed bill. A main point of issue for the card rooms is their requirement that any bill set to pass must exclude “bad actors,” defined as any company that accepted internet gaming betting after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. Additionally, the letter states the card rooms desire to be included in any discussions surrounding the development of absolute online poker legislation. The letter follows last month’s announcement that thirteen of California’s Native American Tribes had come to an agreement regarding language for a poker bill.
With such activity coming fast and heavy in the waning month, the onus is now on California to decide whether the fifth time is the charm regarding the passage of online poker regulation. Once August 31 has passed, the ability to regulate online poker will vanish until the legislature reconvenes at some point during the first week of January, 2015.
 The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act defines Class II games as, inter alia, “card games that (i) are explicitly authorized by the laws of the State, or (ii) are not explicitly prohibited by the laws of the State and are played at any location in the State, but only if such card games are played in conformity with those laws and regulations (if any) of the State regarding hours or periods of operation of such card games or limitations on wagers or pot sizes in such card games.”