With the end of the California legislative session a few months away, skepticism is mounting that lawmakers will pass an online poker bill. This is the seventh year an online poker bill has been introduced. Sticking points remain between tribal coalitions that refuse to budge on their positions.
At stake is an online poker market that some experts estimate would be about $300 million a year.
Recently, Adam Gray’s AB 431 moved to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it was passed on May 28. This was the first time that an iPoker bill passed out of committee. Its passage by a second committee raises the hopes of supporters.
Steven Miller, California state director of the Poker Players Alliance, praised the committee’s action. He wrote, “Today marks another historic day for online poker in California. A second committee has cleared a bill that marks a monumental step toward providing thousands of consumers with what they need and deserve—a safe place to play poker online.”
Groups supporting and opposed to Gray’s bill sent letters to the chairman of that committee, Jimmy Gomez, outlining their positions.
Gray’s bill is a so-called “shell bill,” which means that most details need to be fleshed out. But the devil, as they say, is in the details, which powerful groups do not agree on.
Last month, two tribes that are not part of the battling coalitions asked one coalition, led by Pechanga, to soften its opposition to allowing racetracks a place at the table along with card clubs and gaming tribes.
Laurie E. Gonzalez of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians in San Diego released a statement urging that the tribes achieve consensus, “rather than digging their heels in the ground.”
This was followed by a statement by Chairman Lynn Valbuena of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Indians who, during a speech at a gambling conference in Sacramento, said, “We’re evaluating all of our options right now with the racetracks.”
She added, “As we all know there are tribes who are opposed to having the tracks in. We have an open mind. We’re still discussing those issues and looking at every option available.”
Pechanga leads a group of gaming tribes that argue that allowing racetracks to have licenses would violate the state’s policy on limited gaming. They also fear that this could undermine the tribe’s exclusivity in casino gaming.
Racetrack officials have also drawn a line in the sand, claiming they already have the right to operate gambling websites as long as the legislature permits iPoker. They have offered online wagering for 15 years. They demand the right to operate their own websites and say they won’t settle for merely being paid subsidies from the activity.
According to PokerStars spokesman Eric
Hollreiser, “We always took the position that poker was not covered” by the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act because it is a game of skill and not of chance.
Pechanga’s coalition includes Amaya/PokerStars and several of the largest card clubs in the Golden State.
Caesars Entertainment also has a business alliance with Amaya/PokerStars. The United Auburn tribe has partnered with bwin party digital entertainment. Pala Casino operates PalaCasino.com in New Jersey, which has legalized online poker.
Some tribes believe that a bill will never be passed without the racetracks because Governor Jerry Brown has said that such a bill is a non-starter and two-thirds of the legislature is required to pass any bill that has a financial character.