California AB 2863 Online Poker Bill Passes GO Committee Vote

The latest California intrastate online-poker bill to receive legislative consideration, Adam Gray’s Assembly Bill 2863, cleared its initial hurdle by passing a committee vote on Wednesday.  Gray’s AB 2863 moved out of his Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization (commonly called the “GO” Committee) on a unanimous 19-0 vote.  Two committee members were not present and had no votes recorded.

CaliforniaThe bill, the first full-language measure regarding the legalization of online poker in the Golden State to pass a committee vote, now moves on to a possible full Assembly hearing, having been written in a way to bypass an intermediate step, the Assembly’s Committee on Appropriations, where last year’s “shell” online-poker bill languished before expiring.

AB 2863’s initial passing vote came after a hearing on the bill’s specifics featuring testimony from several prominent stakeholders in California’s regulated online-poker future.  The bill also passed unanimously despite continuing opposition from a hardline coalition of casino-operating tribal nations, who remain intent on finding a way to block the possible participation of international online-poker giant PokerStars.

Said Assemblyman Gray, following the passage of AB 2863 from his committee, “We know unequivocally that Californians are playing these games online every single day on websites that provide zero consumer protections. After countless revisions and meetings with stakeholders and consumer advocates, there remained two key issues raised by opponents: horse racing and suitability. Today we put forward language that settles the horse racing component, and negotiations over suitability continue.”

The target of the hardline tribes’ continued balking over suitability requirements, PokerStars, remains at the heart of another coalition which generally favors AB 2863 in its present form.  Several members of that coalition, which includes the Morongo and San Manuel bands of Mission Indians and three giant Los Angeles poker rooms, issued a joint statement of support following the bill’s passing.  A sampling of comments:

“After eight years of analysis and discussion, today’s milestone vote marks the strongest step forward by California to create a regulated iPoker market that establishes vital consumer protections,” said Morongo Tribal Chairman Robert Martin. “It’s clear that Chairman Gray’s bill presents a new and promising approach, and we’re hopeful that we will see an iPoker bill signed this year.”

Assembly Bill 2863 would establish a vibrant, competitive marketplace for online poker, provide superior consumer protections, require strict oversight and regulation of licensees and service providers, and ensure a reasonable return for the State of California.

Added Lynn Valbuena, Chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, “The growing momentum behind this iPoker bill is very encouraging and is the fruit of Chairman Gray’s inclusive approach with all stakeholders. The broad coalition of tribal governments, card clubs, and online operators is hopeful that the strong support we saw today will end the delay in establishing a well regulated environment of vital consumer protections.”

Said Keith Sharp, General Counsel to Hawaiian Gardens Casino and iPoker Counsel to Commerce Casino and Bicycle Casino. “For too long, California has left online poker players without basic consumer protections,” “Passing this bill can bring much-needed oversight and competition to the growing online market. Today we have seen what gaming tribes, online providers and California’s card rooms can do when we work together.”

All five of the above cardrooms and casino entities have reached tentative partnership agreements with PokerStars in the event California eventually legalizes online poker and PokerStars passes any mandated suitability requirements.

AB 2863 is also supported by several other parties, including the Washington D.C.-based Poker Players Alliance.  PPA Executive Director John Pappas was among those testifying at Wednesday’s hearing, and the PPA issued its own congratulatory statement following the vote.

Said Pappas, “The PPA applauds the committee for moving quickly and unanimously to pass A.B. 2863. This bill will create a thriving online poker market in California that most importantly protects consumers. There is still much work to do and we are hopeful that any remaining issues can be resolved in a way that ensures a competitive, yet tightly regulated marketplace with operators who care about the consumer experience. Questions of operator suitability are best left to the state regulators who have a long and successful history of setting standards to the maximum benefit of consumers. We urge swift movement of A.B. 2863 as it proceeds through the legislative process.”

Gray’s AB 2863 will likely receive further amendments as it nears consideration and a possible full Assembly vote.  The bill must pass such a vote by two-thirds majority before moving on to a similar series of legislative stops in California’s state Senate.

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