California Tribes Divided on Two Online Poker Bills

Posted on March 10th, 2014 by Todd Wilkins

California Tribes Divided on Two Online Poker BillsTwo online poker bills are currently pending in California, leaving an estimated 750,000 to 1 million online poker players in standby mode.

While some industry observers predict that 2014 will not be the year that such a proposal sees approval from state lawmakers due to upcoming elections, others are of the mind that enough progress has been made among the state’s gaming interests to warrant the best possibility yet that California will join Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey in offering regulated online poker before the calendar turns to 2015.

The first of the two proposals comes from Senator Lou Correa, (D-Santa Ana), who was recently named to oversee the Senate Governmental Organization Committee as chairman. That committee has control over matters pertaining to gambling, alcohol and horse racing.

The committee’s previous chairman, Senator Rod Wright, was found guilty of eight felonies in January related to not residing in the district that he represents. Wright sponsored previous online poker bills that failed to find favor among his colleagues. Each included the state’s horse racing interests, which the tribal community would much rather exclude.

Correa’s SB 1366 follows in the footsteps of a similar bill that the senator proposed last year and has the backing of several influential tribes such as the United Auburn Indian Community and the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians. SB 1366 does not include racetracks in the state’s Internet poker scheme.

Also on the table is a proposal from Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) that, much like SB 1366, has tribal support. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuila Indians are among the tribes that have signed off on AB 2291. Absent from the proposal are California’s horsemen.

The state’s cardrooms are included in both measures and ask only to be the recipient of the same consideration given to tribes with regard to taxes and licensing. The cardrooms believe that online poker will complement their live poker revenue, which is still a matter of debate among some tribes.

For instance, the Pechanga tribe is reportedly not completely sold on the idea of online poker, but sees it as a better alternative than permitting online casino games such as blackjack and roulette. Many tribes continue to be of the mind that Internet gambling, both poker and casino games of chance, will hurt the already significant revenue generated at their land-based gaming operations.

The two pending bills differ with regard to license fees and the number of operators allowed. Correa suggests a $10 million fee with no limit on the number of websites that can participate in the state’s Internet poker regime. Jones-Sawyer proposes $5 million and limitations on the number of applicants.

Both bills will require considerable negotiation to possibly advance. In the meantime, 1 million or so online poker players in California will either wait for legislative approval or continue patronizing a number of unregulated sites catering to the U.S. market.

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