California’s legislative session is scheduled to conclude at the end of August and it appears that the online poker bill currently on the table may fail to gain approval as the state’s gaming interests still cannot agree on a bill that will satisfy everybody.
A main reason for the lack of common ground rests with Golden State Indian tribes who are divided over whether Internet poker will increase or hurt the current revenue stream from their brick and mortar casinos. A number of tribes are behind the proposed bill of Senators Roderick Wright and Darrell Steinberg to regulate online poker in the nation’s most populous state. Other tribes favor the concept, but insist on various amendments to the legislation in its current form. Still other tribal groups vehemently oppose online poker, believing that its introduction will dissuade gamblers from wagering at casinos–although studies have shown the opposite to be true.
“It doesn’t look good,” Sen. Wright (D-Inglewood) told the Press-Enterprise, regarding the prospects of SB 1463 gathering enough support prior to the Aug. 31 deadline, which is fast-approaching.
Cardrooms and Indian tribes in favor of online poker have been lobbying for its regulation for almost three years. Despite public hearings and negotiations that have tallied hundreds of hours of time spent on the matter, legislators have yet to formally vote on the issue. A vote was scheduled during a committee hearing in June, but Sen. Wright removed the bill’s discussion from the agenda prior to the meeting due to lack of support. Since that time, he and Sen. Steinberg (D-Sacramento) have tried to re-tool the bill in order to please the gaming interests who have voiced objections, but pleasing all the parties involved is not an easy task.
“I’m not going to break a pick on this issue,” Steinberg recently told reporters, “but I’m willing to see it through if there is a little more consensus.”
The California Online Poker Association (COPA), comprised of 31 cardrooms and 29 Indian tribes that have joined forces in lobbying for passage of Internet poker legislation, responded to Steinberg by proposing several amendments to SB 1463 in the “spirit of compromise.” The group is hoping something can be accomplished before time runs out in the current legislative session, as failure to do so would cause the process to begin anew in 2013.
“California cannot afford to give up 1,300 jobs and $1.4 billion in new revenue in California over the next ten years by further delaying online poker legislation,” said Ryan Hightower, a spokesperson for COPA.
COPA’s list of desired amendments include moving the target starting date from Jan. 1, 2014 to June 30, 2013, extending the proposed duration of each license to ten years from five, and prohibiting the state’s horse racing-interests and advanced-deposit wagering providers from holding Internet gaming licenses, although the advanced-deposit outlets would be allowed to offer technology to licensees. Needless to say, such a proposal does not sit well with horse track owners, as that industry wants to get in on the online poker game as well.
The lack of agreement among Indian tribes, horse-racing interests and cardrooms has put a crimp on California’s desire to join Nevada and Delaware as states that have legalized online gambling. As stated quite succinctly by Hightower, “To put this off another year is not in anyone’s best interest.” However, with billions of dollars involved and the interest groups seemingly far apart with slightly more than two weeks left in the legislative session, online poker legalization in California does not look promising in 2012.
But not everyone is in favor of pushing legislation through so as not to have to wait until next year. “This issue is too important to rush through at the close of the legislative session,” said Jeff L. Grubbe, chairman of the Agua Caliente tribe.
With a population of over 37 million, many industry observers believe that California may be the only state with enough player liquidity to sustain online poker on an intrastate basis. The other states–Nevada and Delaware included–may have to establish interstate formats in order for online poker to be viable.