California Internet Poker Bill Introduced

Posted on December 3rd, 2014 by Alana Markoff
Assemblyman Mike Gatto

Assemblyman Mike Gatto has introduced a new online poker bill in California, one that shares some common features with previous attempts. (Image:

A California Internet poker bill has been introduced by State Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), setting the stage for yet another debate over regulating Internet gambling in 2015.

The bill, officially designated AB 9, would only allow for online poker and not other virtual casino games, and shares many similarities to proposed legislation by a coalition of tribal groups made this past summer.

Gatto says that regulating online poker is a necessity for California, which is losing money to overseas poker sites that state residents are already playing on today.

“The status quo is a lost opportunity,” Gatto said in a statement.” California could receive significant revenue for merely regulating and legitimizing an industry that Californians already participate in but send their dollars overseas.”

Gatto Calls On California to be a Leader in Online Poker

Gatto also made reference to the fact that California is a state known for innovation, saying it made little sense for online poker to be an exception to that rule.

“California has led the world in computer and internet innovation, and there is no good reason why we can’t continue to lead with a sensible online-poker framework,” Gatto said. “AB 9 borrows from time-tested business practices that will improve our government finances and keep our money in our home state.”

Bad Actor Clause Still Present

Gatto’s bill would keep the bad actor clauses that were present in so many previous proposals in California. In fact, there is language in AB 9 that makes it clear that even companies that have purchased brands that continued operations in the United States after UIGEA went into effect should be barred from competing in the state.

That would seem designed to keep out Amaya, which had hoped it could use the PokerStars brand in regulated US markets now that they were in control of the company. However, the bill also allows for exemptions if companies can prove they won’t adversely impact the integrity of the state’s online poker market.

Another controversial clause that remains in Gatto’s bill is the limit on who will be allowed to operate online poker sites in the state. Under AB 9, only card rooms or tribal casinos would have that right. This could be a sticking point with the horse racing industry, which is powerful in California and would like to have a piece of the online gaming pie.

Bill Would Require Registration at Live Venues

While these and other features of Gatto’s legislation are holdovers from previous attempts to regulate online poker, AB 9 also has some new ideas to throw into the debate. In particular, the bill would require player registration and many deposits and withdrawals to take place in person.

That would be problematic if only the casino or card room that ran a site could take those payments, but Gatto has proposed the creation of “satellite service centers,” which could be located at other casinos or card rooms.

The idea seems to be that this would give more venues a role to play in the online poker industry, likely increasing traffic to smaller gambling locations that wouldn’t be able to support their own Internet poker operations.

So far, no companion bill has been introduced to the California State Senate. It is unlikely that AB 9 will see much movement for at least the next few months, as it will take time to get a critical mass of gaming interests in the state to reach a consensus on the particulars of any online poker legislation.

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