CA lawmakers push to legalize online poker

online poker

A sample poker game is played on the Ultimate Gaming website, in Las Vegas. Ultimate Gaming began offering Internet gambling in Nevada earlier this year, and now New Jersey residents and visitors will be able to start gambling online on Nov. 26, after a five-day trial period to make sure the systems operated by the city’s 12 casinos work properly. Nine of the city’s 12 casinos have acknowledged lining up partners for Internet gambling, and a 10t

SACRAMENTO — Will 2015 be the year California legalizes online poker?

Two lawmakers at the state Capitol are betting big that it will be.

But their competing bills, introduced early this session, show there’s still strong disagreement about which industry players should control and benefit from the popular, and lucrative, business.

Candidates include card clubs, Indian tribes, race tracks and out-of-state gaming companies.

Lawmakers and these groups have failed for nearly a decade to craft rules for who should control state-regulated poker sites and how much they should pay to do so. During this time, thousands of California poker players have migrated to playing online through unauthorized, often untrustworthy sites based overseas, letting industry and tax money slip away.

With hundreds of millions in revenue at stake, potential operators including San Diego County’s Indian tribes want action, not more delay.

“This discussion has been going on for six years. Time is of the essence. Hundreds of millions of dollars are leaving the state. That’s a huge market that we’re all losing out on,” said Cody Martinez, chairman of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, which operates Sycuan Casino east of El Cajon.

In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department reversed a 2006 federal ban on Internet gambling. That allowed states to decide whether to legalize the practice within their borders. Since then, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have all approved rules allowing their residents to play on state-regulated poker sites.

Several other states, including Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts and Texas, have considered but not approved online poker proposals.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians, based in North San Diego County, established an Internet poker website for New Jersey residents last fall, becoming the first tribe to break into the online gaming market. A spokesman for the tribe declined comment for this article.

While Pala is considered among the most aggressive on the topic, many other tribes are eager to play a hand in online poker.

Internet poker “is already going on. It’s a question of how do the tribes in California fit into the puzzle,” said Lee Acebedo, executive director of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.

Given the competing interests in California, several observers gave the Golden State only a 50/50 chance that either of its bills will become law this year. The use of any online poker site by the state would be limited to California residents only, though with nearly 40 million people in the state, observers say it would leave its owners flush with cash.

Below is a look at how the California bills compare.

Late last year, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, introduced AB 9, which he calls the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2015.

It would require authorized groups to pay a one-time license deposit of $5 million into the state’s general fund to operate an online poker site.

Most controversial, however, is what’s been described as a “bad actors” clause in Gatto’s bill that would potentially bar the powerful Morongo Band of Mission Indians from operating a site.

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February 5, 2015: posted in News And Reviews No Comments

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