The battle for online poker regulation in California has taken a step back as the organization that was helping to drive legislation has disbanded amid infighting among its members.
The California Online Poker Association, a venture between the different card rooms, horse tracks and Indian casinos in the Golden State, seems to have closed its doors according to reports over Twitter by Victor Rocha, the editor of Pechanga.net. Last night, the website for COPA, calonlinepoker.org, was officially shut down by the group (visiting the site today leads to an announcement that the “domain name expired on October 22” and apparently wasn’t renewed), leading Rocha to Tweet to his followers, “COPA is toast, as if you couldn’t tell that already.”
According to Rocha, COPA began to unravel due to the myriad of groups that comprised it. While legislation in California regarding regulation of the industry has moved slowly, a recent rewrite of a proposed bill, State Senator Rod Wright‘s SB 1463, seemed to be moving forward with giving exclusive rights to Indian tribes, thereby closing out such card rooms as the Commerce Casino and the Bicycle Casino and horse racing facilities such as Hollywood Park out of the business. The push by the Indian tribes for this exclusivity seems to have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back” inside the walls of COPA.
Rocha broke the news initially that the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians would be withdrawing from COPA, which sent things spiraling even further. Following the departure of the San Manuel tribe, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, one of the strongest members of the coalition, announced that they would also be abandoning COPA. “I’ve known about San Manuel since G2E (the recent Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas), Morongo’s departure was predictable,” Rocha noted over Twitter.
Even though Rocha may have known about these moves, it seems that others in the COPA framework weren’t aware of the problems. “The small tribes were blindsided by today’s news,” Rocha Tweeted. “They had no idea this was coming.”
With the closure of COPA, there are other questions that arise. One is regarding the organization’s free play site, CalShark.com, which was established last year. Visiting the site today, the operation still seems to be up and running, although actual player numbers are unavailable unless you download the site.
Another factor to consider is the ongoing battle for regulated online poker in the state of California. Long a contentious battle, the dissolving of COPA leaves no advocate to push for poker legislation in the General Assembly. Instead, the different factions (Indian tribes, card rooms and racetracks) will now have to advocate individually for any legislation, which could further muddy the waters in any attempt to push through regulation of the industry.
California would be a huge prize for any online company and some have stepped forward. COPA and Playtech teamed up to offer CalShark to Californians and, in May, bwin.Party entered into an agreement with the United Auburn Indian Community to provide online poker pending the passage of poker regulation in the state. With the current situation regarding the breakup of COPA and the potential failure of online poker legislation in the state, it is unknown how it will affect these agreements.
When it comes to the United States – whether it is regulated by the state or by the federal government – California is the crown jewel that everyone is looking for. With over 37 million residents, it is the largest state in the country; even if only ten percent of those citizens played online poker, the potential 3.7 million players would dwarf even the largest online poker operations in existence at this point. The revenue generated from players – as well as the potential $30 million licensing fee by the state – would be a salve for some of the financial ills of California, but not a cure-all.