New California Online Poker Bill Introduced: Excludes PokerStars, Horse Tracks

California assemblyDemocratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto has introduced a new California online poker bill dubbed the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2015 [read here]. The legislation is largely similar to the bill backed by a coalition of 13 tribes floated last summer, with a few changes mostly meant to keep PokerStars out of the state.

AB 9 would allow for online poker only and prohibit operators from offering casino table games. Only card rooms and tribes would be allowed to apply for licenses, with horseracing tracks being completely left out of the action. The bill also contains “bad actor” language which was seemingly rewritten with the express purpose of prohibiting PokerStars from opening up shop in the state.

“The commission shall issue a finding that a license applicant is not suitable to obtain a license if it finds that a person subject to investigation pursuant to this article is described by any of the following: […]

Has purchased or acquired the covered assets of any entity described in paragraph (8) or (9), and will use any of those assets in connection with Internet poker in the state.”

So not only would operators who stayed in the US after the UIGEA was passed be barred, but even those like PokerStars, which was sold to Amaya Gaming last summer, would be prohibited.

But the bill’s language could be open to interpretation, with the following text seemingly providing an opening for the online poker behemoth:

“The commission shall waive the application of paragraph (10) of subdivision (b) for an applicant who demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence of any of the following: […]

The applicants 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.”

AB 9 also goes after the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, who defiantly opened its real money gaming site, Desert Rose Bingo, last month. According to the bill, any tribes who take bets from players inside the state who are not located on tribal lands will not be eligible for a license.

The fine print

Operators would pay a one-time fee of $5 million as well as annual fees which have yet to be determined. Allowed games would include all poker variants approved by the state other than Pai Gow, or games in which a third-party could bet on the outcome of a hand.

The bill calls for intrastate poker only, with the possibility of making compacts with other states or countries in the future.

Only California residents 21 years of age or above would be able to play, and must make their first deposit, as well as large withdrawals, at the site’s land-based casino or at a “satellite” branch. By including this measure, Gatto hopes to appease tribes by increasing foot traffic to their casinos.