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PokerStars, PPA at Center of Legal Online Poker Debate in California

Another legislative year gone by. More gridlock, continued frustration and a familiar outcome for American poker players. Apparently there will be no regulated online poker coming to the state of California this year. On Tuesday, Steve Ruddock — widely regarded as one of the most connected writers in the poker industry — gave his take on the current status of licensed online poker in CA… referring to it as a “nightmare.”

Our readers who have kept up with what’s going on in California this past week are already aware that PokerStars and the Poker Players Alliance now find themselves at the forefront of controversy in the battle for regulated online poker in California.

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But in case you haven’t heard, the world’s most successful (for lack of a better term to describe a company that’s billions of dollars in makeup) poker site — as well as the industry’s largest “advocacy group” — did an About Face on their respective regulate online poker stances Thursday after amendments were made to California Assembly Bill 2863 that would prohibit PokerStars from entering into any future legal online poker market in that state for a minimum of 5 years.

The particulars of how the Bill’s sponsor, California State Assemblyman Adam Gray, switched loyalties last week from the PokerStars-backed coalition to the opposing group led by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians is best explained by Ruddock in a writeup published by official TwoPlusTwo NVG forum sponsor Online Poker Report earlier this week.

But the short of it is that PokerStars and the PPA, longtime perceived “supporters” of regulated US online poker will not support the most recently-amended version of AB-2863; effectively ensuring Californians will have to wait at least until 2017 for a legal online poker resolution. In effect, PokerStars has now made it clear that it will fight against regulating online poker if legislation does not align with its interests.

Eric Hollreiser -- VP of Corporate Communications, Amaya Inc.

Eric Hollreiser — VP of Corporate Communications, Amaya Inc.

The decision represents yet another coup by the amazing Amaya-Stars PR team headed by VP of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser and pathetic old man sidekick Lee Jones — funded at least in part by promised Supernova Elite money yanked from the site’s highest-volume customers nearly 8 months ago.

Is NO Regulation Better Than Excluding PokerStars Altogether?

This is the burning question on the minds of many American poker players who were affected by Black Friday — most of whom have either stopped playing poker online or continue to compete in real money games on unlicensed sites within the United States.

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Does the need for allowing PokerStars into the California fold outweigh the need for legal online poker in general? Is the PPA correct when it labels the Bill’s amendments as a bad bet for poker players?

Well, let’s take a look at what a few high profile poker players and industry gurus have to say about this latest turn of events, shall we? Former Team PokerStars Pro “Hollywood” Ike Haxton (who ended his affiliation with the site in January) took to Twitter last week to express concerns with his former sponsor and the PPA’s position.

Isaac Haxton with Joey Ingram -- Poker Life Podcast: Jan 11, 2016

Isaac Haxton with Joey Ingram — Poker Life Podcast: Jan 11, 2016

2016 PokerStars SCOOP-H Main Event winner and multi-millionaire hedge fund manager Talal “raidalot” Shakerchi told TwoPlusTwo NVG Forum members Tuesday that “based on its actions over time PPA is a Pokerstars (+Tilt etc) lobbying organisation dressed up as a player interest group.

Joey Ingram and Talal Shakerchi -- Poker Life Podcast: Jul 2, 2016

Joey Ingram and Talal Shakerchi — Poker Life Podcast: Jul 2, 2016

It needs a low membership fee so it can pretend to represent large numbers of players. Pokerstars gets PPA to argue that poker is a skill game while it promotes the lowest skill forms of poker like spin and go, blurring the line with casino etc.” This past Monday Co-founder Adam Small published an article on that outlines the complexities involved in getting regulation passed in the country’s most populated state.

Adam Small:

Adam Small:

Small provided both sides of the argument and subsequently pointed out why PokerStars’ inclusion into the Golden State market would not be welcomed with open arms by potential competitors (unlike the red carpet 888 Poker CEO Brian Mattingley rolled out for the site in New Jersey). “The biggest difference with PokerStars is that its involvement in California presents a massive obstacle today for other companies who want to grow a share of that market,” he wrote. This in turn could lead to a process that “will have far fewer license applicants and less money for the state,” according to Berkeley Law doctoral graduate David Fried.

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Small is also in favor of REGULATION NOW versus letting Amaya and its collaborators run roughshod over the political process at the expense of players’ tireless efforts — and in some cases decade-long patronage of the Poker Players Alliance — just so PokerStars can delay regulation until it gets its way.

The PokerStars PR Machine

Lee Jones -- PokerStars Director of Communications

Lee Jones — PokerStars Director of Communications

Leaving out the VIP Club Changes, Rake Increases and Affiliate Smackdown offered up by the online poker behemoth in the past couple of years, there are still plenty of things to critique about PokerStars’ lack of honesty not only with its players, but the industry as a whole. And you can start with ousted Amaya CEO David Baazov, who is currently facing Insider Trading charges brought forth by Quebec’s AutoritĂ© des marchĂ©s financiers (AMF).

David Baazov -- Former Chairman & CEO, Amaya Inc.

David Baazov — Former Chairman & CEO, Amaya Inc.

If nothing else, I suppose the shit stain Baazov has left on the poker industry may one day serve as a source of inspiration for would-be corporate angle shooters. After all, who wouldn’t want to convince a group of suckers to dump billions into an established global brand, place you behind the wheel to ride the motherfucker into the ground and come back with a buyback pitch at shoplifter prices once it’s been thoroughly devalued? (not that there’s anything wrong with that)

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But Baazov is old news when it comes to what’s been going on in CA this past week, and the irony of Amaya-Stars’ PR representatives Hollreiser and Jones incessantly “fighting for regulated online poker” one month to ultimately “rally against” it the next is what’s really rubbing a lot of people in our industry the wrong way as we approach the weekend.

And I’ll get out of your way so you can scroll down to read what you came here for after this one other relevant item that leads to a pending battle looming in Amaya’s PR path. Have you ever heard of the term Kentucky Clawback? How about former PokerStars owner and inaugural TwoPlusTwo Internet Pokers Wall of Fame inductee Isai Scheinberg?

Isai Scheinberg --- 1337

Isai Scheinberg — 1337

Ring a bell now? Well, Amaya’s decision makers (apparently not content with diving into the Supernova Elite cookie jar fists-first) also want to pick a fight with arguably the most beloved figure in online poker history — PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg — the innovative businessman who had the vision to make The Online Poker Dream come alive for operators, affiliates, news outlets and players worldwide. Pokerfuse logo I’m going to draw the line on researching tonight at supersedeas bonds, but your most informative source on this topic is the hard-news story editorial shot caller Michael Gentile has to tell.

READ: Amaya, Former PokerStars Owners in Dispute over Escrow Fund

So what’s the good word when it comes to PokerStars’ latest obstructionist PR fumble? The would be funny if it weren’t so sad shakedown of the poker community as a whole? The pillaging of affiliate funds six months prior to screwing over its most meaningful player base in a half-ass attempt to fuel media angst against all these “entitled” poker pros Hollreiser and Jones have continued to shit on?

By now you should have more answers than questions. So to the PPA and other interests that suddenly find themselves on the business end of poker community scrutiny alongside the sickest $4.9 billion degen the poker world has ever known… by far

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You go ahead and ruin what is as of this moment the best opportunity for legalized online poker in California if you absolutely insist (and you do). You keep feeding an increasingly informed poker community the same, fatigue-inducing lines to godmode your way into blocking a chance for regulated online poker in the Golden State that’s staring us all right in the eyes (and you will).

So you do that. But when next year comes around, and even your biggest fanboys/shills are leaving you behind while the money, goodwill intent and influence have all aligned themselves elsewhere, don’t count on anything else besides being consciously ignored.

American poker players and fans have worked way too hard for far too long to take this final straw of not giving licensed US online poker every opportunity to become a reality in any and all jurisdictions. Regardless of whether PokerStars & Co can get their rocks off to whatever Bill is being put forth to regulate online poker.

Let’s make California Online Poker legal NOW!

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About the Author
David Huber

David Huber

David Huber (known as "dhubermex" online) has been involved in the poker industry for more than a decade. He currently assists several poker and gaming entities as a researcher, writer, and consultant. Former Editor-in-Chief & Head Moderator of online tournament rankings site PocketFives (2006-2011).

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