California Hearing Dominated by Self-Interested Parties

Posted on April 24th, 2014 by Andy Walker

California Hearing Dominated by Self-Interested PartiesYesterday´s GO Committee hearing to present information about the fiscal implications of online poker in California was dominated by self-interested parties.

California State Assembly’s Committee on Governmental Organization met yesterday with the purpose of discussing the Public Policy and Fiscal Implications of Authorizing Intrastate Internet Poker in California.

The hearing was well attended by delegates from the major casino-owning tribes and independent card rooms, as well as labor union representatives and lobbyists acting on behalf of various pro and anti-gaming parties.

When Two Tribes Go To War

After an introduction from Chairperson Isadore Hall, the Committee heard background information about online gaming in Nevada and New Jersey from speakers such as Tobin Prior (Ultimate Gaming) and Tom Ballance (Borgata Casino), before representatives from the tribes were invited to give their views on how online poker legislation in California would affect current Tribal gaming operations.

Unfortunately, this was where the hearing disintegrated into a battle between the protectionist tribes opposed to PokerStars being granted a license to operate in California and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians – who have just formalized an agreement with PokerStars and three independent cardrooms to provide online poker in California when legislation allows.

Bad Actor Clause Supported by Spurious Claims

Therefore, instead of educating the Committee on the impact of iPoker in California, representatives of the tribes opposed to PokerStars used their time to insist that a bad actor clause should be included in any future legislation; with Lynn Valbuena from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians citing a survey which claims that 73% of all Californian voters believe that those who previously violated online gambling laws should be left out (we would suggest that 73% of Californian voters – and Ms Valbuena – do not know that PokerStars has never been found guilty of violating online gambling laws).

Of all the Tribal representatives to speak, Robert Martin from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians was the most eloquent – arguing succinctly against the need for a bad actor clause and delivering a relevant speech on the effect online poker would have on the tribe´s brick and mortar operations. His arguments seemed to sway Vice Chairperson Brian Nestande, with whom Martin discussed the financial implications on introducing online poker in California.

Abboud Shot Down in Flames by Hall

The hearing progressed with representatives of the independent card rooms suggesting that a well-constructed partnership between the live and online poker in California could result in live events that would rival the World Series of Poker, Jack Gribbon of the UNITE HERE union presented his views on how legalized iPoker would affect his members and a demonstration of how geolocation would work was presented by Anna Sainsbury from GeoComply.

Then it was the turn of those opposed to online poker to present to the Committee, and there was a dream start for pro-poker activists when Terri Sue Canale from the California Office of Problem and Pathological Gaming and Reverend James Butler from the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion claimed that there were half a million underage gamblers in California with a gambling problems.

No evidence was presented to support their claim, but Andy Abboud – representing Sheldon Adelson´s Coalition to Stop Online Gambling – jumped on the bandwagon by stating that advertising for online gaming targeted youth, and was just as bad as Joe Camel and cigarettes. Abboud called for the original interpretation of the Wire Act to be applied in California, but was shot down in flames at the end of his presentation by Chairperson Isadore Hall, who asked Abboud how his stance against online poker in California could be reconciled against the mobile gambling that is allowed in Sheldon Adelson´s Las Vegas casinos.

Conclusions Drawn from the Hearing

The consensus of opinion was that the hearing was a positive one for those in favor of online poker in California. Senator Kevin de Léon (D-Los Angeles) was reported as saying that an Internet poker deal was “quite plausible” before the end of the current legislative session in August provided that the income for the state was sufficient, while Marco Valero tweeted that Governor Jerry Brown would be okay with the passage of an online poker bill if there was agreement among the stakeholders.

Based on yesterday´s proceedings, that is still a big “if”.

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