Rescheduled AB431 California Online Poker Hearing on Tap for Monday
The latest state-level legislative hearing to consider the possible regulation of California online poker is now on tap for Monday, following a postponement of an earlier scheduled hearing in Sacramento this week.
The hearing, titled “Gambling: Internet poker,” will be tied to one of four California online poker bills currently under consideration in the state, Assembly Bill 431. AB 431 is one of two “shell” or placeholder bills among the four poker-related measures currently under consideration in the Golden State. Its primary sponsor is Rep. Adam Gray (21st, D-Merced). The bill’s identical version in California’s State Senate, a similar placeholder measure, is sponsored by Sen. Isadore Hall III.
Wednesday’s postponement of discussion of the measure before the Assembly was, per a Tweet by Poker Players Alliance executive director John Pappas, merely a matter of more pressing legislation needing to be considered by the GO Committee that day. That’s the Governmental Organization committee through which most of the state’s fiscal legislation must pass, and it’s the same committee which conducted a hearing last year on a separate online poker measure.
The PPA’s Pappas is one of several expert witnesses expected to testify on Monday in the rescheduled hearing, which will be the first topic considered on the committee’s full slate for that day.
Though AB431 itself is formally empty of specifics at this stage, early indications suggest that it will likely avoid the exclusionary language that has been inserted into several earlier California bills, targeting both the Amaya-owned PokerStars and California’s pari-mutuel (racetrack) industry, in an attempt to bar them from any California online poker market.
Immediately after its introduction, a coalition comprised of two tribal nations, three LA-area cardrooms and Amaya itself authored a letter of support for the bill. The five gambling entities all plan on partnering with Amaya and making use of PokerStars poker software if a bill lacking exclusions is passed and signed into law.
The gist of that letter read:
“We strongly support authorizing online poker in California and commit to what we understand will be a deliberative process to develop, and ultimately approve, a bill in 2015 to authorize iPoker and establish a safe California market. We know that finalizing the policy that will ultimately regulate California’s online poker marketplace will not be quick, nor will it be easy. The stagnation of the last six years has made that obvious. But so far, 2015 has been different. Hard lines and tough talk have morphed into open minds and dialogue. Authorizing online poker will be good for millions of consumers and poker players who will benefit from a safe, regulated, commercial gaming environment where they are protected. Every year that California fails to act not only puts consumers at risk while playing online games from offshore localities that provide few protections and regulations, but our state also loses out on collecting hundreds of millions of dollars that can be used for essential programs like public schools, public safety, healthcare and social services. We are committed to putting in the hours and the time necessary to establish a vibrant, competitive marketplace, one that provides superior consumer protections, requires strict oversight and regulation of licensees, and service providers, and ensures that the state receives a reasonable return.”
Similar letters of support were authored by (collectively) the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, Thoroughbred Owners of California and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, and separately by the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, on behalf of the state’s pari-mutuel interests.
Already on record as opposing AB431 are three of the seven hard-line “Cali 7” tribal nations who continue to insist that intrastate California online poker be theirs and theirs alone. Assemblyman Gray and Senator Hall have already received letters of opposition from the Agua Caliente Band of
Cahuilla Indians, the Barona Band of Mission Indians, and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.
The Pechanga letter was typical of that tribe’s hardline stance, with one passage reiterating, “Although stakeholders have made a lot of progress in building consensus on language, important issues remain outstanding including bad actor provisions and eligibility for licensure.”
The Pechangas show no interest in wavering from their position in the near future, either. “The only entities that can [deal] poker in California are Indian tribes and card clubs, period,” Pechanga chairman Mark Macarro stated at last week’s GIGse conference, according to published reports.
The California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion also voiced its opposition to the bill, but for more general, anti-gambling reasons. That group is at the forefront of the state’s anti-gambling bloc and is loosely affiliated with the Stop Predatory Gambling group which made a comedic farce out of last month’s federal-level RAWA hearing in Washington, DC.
Bill sponsor Gray’s openness to all interested parties, including Amaya (PokerStars) and the pari-mutuel interests, bodes well for the long term, even if the current head-bashing signals that California online poker legislation may not pass in 2015 or 2016. This week, the PPA and its head lobbyist, Pappas, succeeded in getting an op-ed published in the Merced Sun-Star, promoting the general advancement of online-poker bill consideration in the state.
Pappas’s op-ed, of course, is necessarily optimistic given the Pechanga and Cali 7 intractability. Nonetheless, it’s another toehold for more open discussions to advance.