California is seen, along with New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois, as one of the leading candidates to become the fourth US destination to offer state regulated legal online gambling options. Most industry analysts see this as an eventual reality, a case of when, not if. But if California does indeed become the next US online gambling state, will they block PokerStars from offering its Internet poker presence to Golden State residents and visitors? We have to go back in time to April 2011 and revisit Black Friday to understand the history here. That was when the United States government decided to employ the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) to shut down the three largest poker players in the world which were honoring players from the USA. PokerStars was one of them.
While no players were ever charged, and the legal troubles fell on the shoulders of the companies and executives themselves, Internet poker and other forms of web gambling in the United States have not been the same since. Actually, PokerStars has emerged as sort of a White Knight in the eyes of many online poker players, as they have spent nearly $1 billion in fees and player account retribution after the Black Friday shutdown to reestablish their good name. And they also acquired sister site Full Tilt Poker, paying any eligible players the money that was frozen in those accounts as well. Hardly behavior befitting a “bad guy” reputation.
So you would think that California would look favorably on such a responsible cyber poker entity doing what’s right. That may not be the case. PokerStars has tried unsuccessfully to join the US Internet gambling marketplace on the state level, ever since Nevada historically legalized online poker back in 2013. However, The Silver State, with years of history as the global mecca of gambling, decided to include a “bad actor clause” in the legislation which returned web gambling to the United States at the state level. This basically banned PokerStars from the marketplace for all intents and purposes moving forward, and both Delaware and New Jersey specifically blocked PokerStars from obtaining an online gambling license in those states. It looks like the legal online poker betting scene has a little bit of a hierarchy going on.
While the prevailing prediction was that California would be the next major state to adopt Internet gambling in the US this year, that may not happen until 2015. But cyber gambling in some form is definitely coming to California residents and travelers at some point in time in the very near future. With more than 38 million people residing in California, PokerStars would probably be willing to do anything at all to get a piece of that action. But currently, a large faction that includes influential and powerful tribal gaming organizations and vocal gambling industry insiders is making it very clear that PokerStars will most probably not be servicing California residents, at least any time soon.
What earned PokerStars federal indictments back in 2011 was the fact that since the UIGEA became law in 2006, the company continued “knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet.” That specific verbiage is part of UIGEA legislation, and was deemed illegal. California’s tribal gaming groups and many legislators believe past bad behavior predicts future activities. And even though the Department of Justice now allows each individual state to decide its own online gambling destiny, it appears the gambling powers that be in The Golden State are currently of the opinion that PokerStars should not be able to ply its Internet gambling trade in their state, unless there some dramatic change occurs.