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Could online poker become legal in California?

A man plays poker on his computer connected to an internet gaming site from his home in Manassas, VA 02 October, 2006.
A man plays poker on his computer connected to an internet gaming site from his home in Manassas, VA 02 October, 2006.

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As of now, online poker is legal in just three states - Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, but this type of gaming could be coming to California. 

After years of disagreements, 13 major California tribes have finally settled on legislation that would legalize poker online. But one major tribe isn't in on the deal: Southern California's Morongo, says  Jonathan Grotenstein from All In Magazine.

"This is a response in many ways to an announcement that took place a couple of weeks ago... where lawmakers sat down with different parties who are interested in the poker outcome to sort of figure out a plan of attack for getting something done."

"One of the news stories that came out of that was an alliance that was formed between Morongo, which is one of the bigger indian casinos, with PokerStars, who is the biggest online poker room in the world, catering only to clients outside of the United States. They also teamed up with a couple of old brick and mortar casinos... to form an alliance that would then create the legislation that would go into practice. The 13... indian casinos... were left out of that compact. So this is their opportunity to come in and say no, this is our plan."

So, the back and forth has become a battle between tribes with different interests.

"One of the interesting characteristics of the plan that they presented was that poker stars... would be excluded from operating in California, at least at the onset, so that would give them a chance to create some sort of market advantage before poker stars is allowed to come in as the 800 pound gorilla."

While online poker is only legal in a few places in the U.S., according to Grotenstein, the entire world is watching to see how this shakes out in California, because it has the potential to be such a big market for online gambling.

"One of the big issues that's facing online poker... is that there needs to be a large enough player pool to have it make sense for people. They need to know that when they log onto the Internet that there's going to be a game going whether it's the middle of the night or the middle of the day... PokerStars allows that to happen. PokerStars has a huge pool of players that they can immediately introduce into the market. It's one of the reasons that everybody wants to get into California. California will immediately have the largest pool of players of any state in the union once it begins."

There are also plenty of interests, besides the tribes who are interested in this deal.

"What makes it particularly complicated is that California is also facing opposition from outside the state. Sheldon Adelson, who's a big republican fundraiser has spent a lot of money trying to make sure that online poker does not pass in California."

Adelson is also the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation. They own casinos around the world, including the Venetian. So, he has a vested interested in keeping people showing up at his casinos doors, rather than getting their gambling fix online.

But if people can open up their computer's browser and start gambling, could it keep them from heading to already established casinos? Grotenstein says that casinos did see an uptick in foot traffic when online gambling was shut down in 2011. However, it's unclear whether they'll be cannibalizing themselves by pushing forward legislation like this.

"Quick answer to that is we don't know. The people who are involved in the brick and mortar casinos and indian casinos are all worried that this is going to damage their business, but there is some credibility to the idea that a rising tide will help all boats that are involved in everything that's going on. That is, more and more people are interested in poker and playing poker again online. Those people are also going to make trips to their local casinos to play tournaments and have the experience of a live game."

Bottom line... is online poker going to become legal in California? 

"I do believe it's going to happen and I believe it'll happen by the end of this year."