Dennis Phillips: Online Poker in Calif. by 2018, Penn. in a Year

Dphillips LaceyJones
Dennis Phillips has been actively involved in legalizing online poker in the U.S.

The World Series of Poker will host its first online bracelet event in Nevada later this month, but neighboring California is still debating who the online dealer should be.

California currently has a few bills about online poker in legislature --including bill AB-431-- and the debt-ridden state is eager to see them pass.

Despite this, Dennis Phillips says there are still a few obstacles in the way.

“All the parties out there want to get it done,” Phillips said. “They just keep running into the same two hurdles.

“The two major hurdles we have are are: do you allow a bad actor clause in it and do you allow the race tracks in it?"

The bad actor clause would allow California regulators to deny gaming licenses to would-be online poker companies if they continued to do business after the UIGEA.

This is a not-so subtle clause to try and keep PokerStars out of California, a state the company is betting on.

Fighting the Bad Actor Clause

PokerStars teamed up with the Morongo tribe and recently sent Daniel Negreanu and Jason Somerville to California to give legislators a demonstration of what legal online poker could look like.

Scaling up the rhetoric, the Viejas tribe recently released an attack ad against PokerStars.

Phillips hopes the animosity will subside and that everyone will eventually see the benefits of having PokerStars in the state.

Daniel Negreanu
Daniel Negreanu

“I really, really hope they realize that with Amazya in the picture, with the integrity of PokerStars, there's value for the entire state," Phillips said.

"Including for some of the people that have been opposed to it. It’s for the best."

Currently, Delaware and New Jersey don’t have a bad actor clause but Nevada included a 10-year ban for sites who kept doing business post-UIGEA

Even if California decides on whether to include the clause, Phillips says there's a larger hurdle.

Fighting the Race Tracks

“It appears race tracks are the hardest to get over,” Phillips said.

“By insisting upon getting involved in the online side of it, there is some feeling out there that they are threatening the compacts that the tribes have set up.

“They’re treading on some of their ground, so there’s some opposition to that.”

Phillips is optimistic that California will legalize online poker, but he’s less optimistic about the timeframe.

“I absolutely feel it’s going to happen,” Phillips said. “We just need to work together, sit down at a table, hash it out and say, ‘Come on guys lets get this done, we all want it.’

“I also would unfortunately have to say it’d probably be 2018 before it happens, possibly 2017.”

While Phillips says California legislation is a few years off, there’s another state that might get things done a bit sooner.

Is Pennsylvania Next?

Dennis Phillips
"It bothers the heck out of me."

“Pennsylvania’s moving forward [with online poker],” Phillips said.

“In fact, I would say Pennsylvania’s the only one with a shot to get it done in the next 12 months.

“There’s about half a dozen other states that are looking at things and eventually it will come around.”

This, Phillips says, could set forward a domino effect that could override the need for federal legislation..

“Whether it becomes legal federally or not is irrelevant,” Phillips said. “If enough states get it, it will be the same.

“Then the federal gov’t will have to look at it.”

Until then, hurdles will continue to clog online poker legislation, especially since the 2016 election is right around the corner.

“With our gentleman that’s sitting over there at the Sands,” Phillips said.

“With all the political stuff going on for the election, and the rest of it, the road to legislation is definitely clogged up.”

“It really bothers the heck out of me.”

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