Despite widespread support, it appears that intrastate online poker will not be legalized and regulated in California this year. It still seems, however, that it is a matter or “when” and not “if” for online poker in the Golden State.
In a letter to stakeholders, including Native American tribes and card rooms, California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said that while he supports online gaming, “significant, unresolved issues remain,” issues that just simply won’t be ironed out by September 9th, the final day of the legislative year.
“We believe the concept of bringing intrastate internet gaming to California has merit and is worth pursuing in a smart, methodical way. But if we go down this road, it is important to strike a balance between the potential significant fiscal benefits to the state coffers, impacts on sovereign nations’ interests as well as the conceivable positive and negative affects gambling has on our state,” wrote Steinberg.
Some of the aforementioned issues include “tribal exclusivity and waiver of sovereignty immunity, the types of games that would be authorized, and who would be eligible to apply for licenses and potential federal constitutional questions.”
There are actually two internet gaming bills being considered right now in California. One, introduced by Senate Governmental Organization Committee chair Rod Wright, would legalize all forms of online gambling, while Senator Lou Correa’s SB 40 is a poker-only bill. The latter is supported by the California Online Poker Association (COPA), a group led by the Morongo and San Manuel bands of Mission Indians.
While some tribes back the Correa bill, others are opposed to it, feeling that they and others will be left out of the mix, largely because of the prohibitive $50 million proposed licensing fee. Essentially, they fill the bill would cater exclusively to the largest entities.
Although issues do remain, Steinberg wrote the he believes, “absent unforeseen circumstances, we fully expect an objective proposal will be developed in the interim in time for consideration when the legislature reconvenes in 2012.”
The Senate Governmental Organization Committee will hold a hearing in January 2012 “for the purpose of moving a bill through the committee.”
While most poker players would agree that any online poker is better than none at all, many do not like the idea of ring-fencing each state, limiting players to sites where they would only be allowed to compete with people from the same state. Phil Hellmuth voiced his criticisms with Washington, D.C.’s plans for legal intrastate internet poker, saying that there simply will not be enough players for it grow to any sort of significance. At the same time, California is magnitudes larger than the United States capital, with over 37 million residents, compared to just 601,000 for the District of Columbia. California’s online poker rooms would also be privately run, as opposed to D.C.’s, which would be managed by Intralot in a partnership with the city’s government. COPA has already partnered with Playtech, owner of the iPoker Network, to provide its gaming platform.