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California Online Poker Hearing Brings Optimism

A number of issues were brought to light in yesterday’s hearing on online poker before a California committee, with the overall results pointing in a positive direction toward legislation eventually finding approval in the nation’s most populous state.

A parade of 33 witnesses provided testimony to the California State Assembly’s Governmental Organization Committee that took a look at “Public Policy and Fiscal Implications of Authorizing Intrastate Internet Poker in California.” The variety of witnesses included industry insiders from the regulated states of New Jersey and Nevada to the state’s native Indian tribes whose failure to fully ally has been a large reason why California online poker players are currently patronizing unregulated sites.

While two intrastate online poker bills are currently on the legislative table in the Golden State – AB 2291 and SB 1366 – committee chairman Isadore Hall III spoke of the need to obtain information from the witnesses as opposed to debating the merits of either bill. He did, however, stress the importance of creating an ipoker bill that can be used by other states in drafting legislation of their own.

Those testifying included: former Nevada Gaming Control Board chairman Mark Lipparelli; Borgata’s Chief Operating Officer Tom Ballance; Ultimate Gaming CEO Tobin Prior; tribal chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians Robert Martin; Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians chairman Mark Macarro; spokesperson Terri Sue Canale of the California Office of Problem and Pathological Gaming; and Andy Abboud, representing the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling on behalf of billionaire casino owner and outspoken critic of online gambling, Sheldon Adelson.

A laundry list of concerns regarding the state’s possible Internet poker legislation came to the forefront. Among the matters addressed were safeguards for the protection of under-aged and problem gamblers, the well-established unregulated U.S. online poker market, the need to prevent fraudulent behavior such as money laundering, licensing, the immense revenue potential, so-called bad actors, and the role of tribes in the whole scheme.

The latter got a bit more dicey yesterday when a press release announced an agreement between PokerStars, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the three state card clubs of Hawaiian Gardens Casino, the Bicycle Casino and the Commerce Club “to offer online poker in California when legislation is passed.” Such an alliance may hinder efforts at regulation considering that a number of tribes are insistent upon excluding PokerStars.

That’s just one of a number of issues that need to be fully addressed before California follows the lead of Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey in approving Internet poker. It was pointed out by committee members that it would be greatly beneficial if the state took action regarding the passage of a bill before federal lawmakers have a chance to enact blanket legislation that would ban online poker and gambling.

Considering past history, whether any movement can be made on approving Internet poker regulations during this year’s legislative session is questionable at best. It all depends on the stakeholders involved finding common ground and making compromises in order to benefit from an intrastate online poker industry that has the potential to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

California Gambling Control Commission chairman Richard Lopes did say at the hearing that the commission was ready to regulate online poker. If that readiness can extend to the gaming interests involved, then the adults among 38 million Californians can enjoy regulated Internet poker.



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Charles Rettmuller

Charles has been an avid poker player for a number of years, both live and online. He holds a degree in journalism and previously worked as a reporter for a Chicago-based newspaper. Charles joined the PokerUpdate team in early 2012 and writes daily news articles for the site.