California online poker has been a contentious issue, and not just between supporters and opponents.
Even those who want to see Internet poker come to the state have failed time and time again to get on the same page, as they argue over just who should be allowed to offer the games to state residents.
One of the groups that has fought hardest to get their voice heard in the ongoing debate is the horse racing industry.
While you might not immediately associate racetracks with Internet poker, the connection isn’t too hard to understand: across the United States, horse racing venues have added (or would like to add) other gambling options in order to increase revenues, something that has benefitted track owners and others in the horse racing industry, right now to horse owners and trainers.
Horse Racing Currently Has Only Online Gambling in California
Perhaps that’s part of why California tracks want a piece of what would be a valuable online poker pie in the state. But some Native American tribal groups have largely opposed this effort, saying that only card rooms and tribes should have the right to run online poker sites.
In a recent interview with Online Poker Report’s Dave Palermo, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club COO Josh Rubenstein said this isn’t fair, particularly given the fact that the tracks have the most experience offering online gambling at the moment.
“The horse racing industry has exclusivity with web-based gaming in California,” Rubenstein said, referring to the online wagering that has been available on horse racing since 2001. “We think that because the horse racing industry has exclusivity in that space it’s pretty logical that with any expansion of Internet wagering that horse racing needs to have a seat at the table.”
Tribal Groups Divided on the Issue of Including Racetracks
This is not an opinion that has been shared throughout the state. Various factions have offered a number of possibilities for the involvement of horse racing in online poker, from allowing them on the playing field to offering subsidies to keep them out, or just ignoring them altogether.
In a recent letter to Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), a coalition of tribes including the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians stated that they did not want the racing industry in the online poker market, pointing out that voters had previously rejected expanded gambling at the tracks themselves.
Meanwhile, the coalition of tribes that are aligned with PokerStars, including the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, have recently come around to allowing the racetracks into the picture. Generally speaking, the card rooms in the state have also been accepting of allowing the horse racing industry into the market.
More practically, however, any bill that doesn’t allow racetracks to take part in Internet poker will likely fail to pass into law.
The horse racing industry may be powerful enough to scuttle any legislation before it comes to a vote, and Governor Jerry Brown has said he wouldn’t sign such a bill if the horse racing industry wasn’t comfortable with it.
While it’s still unclear whether there is any hope at all of legislation passing this year, there has at least been movement towards consensus on an online poker bill in California this year.
So far in 2015, four distinct online poker bills have been introduced in the California legislature, and there have been several major players who have suggested they might be willing to compromise on key issues to get something done in the state.