Online poker bill emerges from committee — a first

Internet gambling, an illustration. (Photo: Pedro Sala)

The Legislature made history of sorts Monday when it recorded its first-ever committee vote on a bill to legalize internet poker in California, but the measure is light on details and remains a focus of intense negotiations.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, introduced the bill, AB 431, earlier this year. Gray chairs the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, which has jurisdiction over gambling issues. The panel, the first hurdle for gaming legislation, unanimously approved his bill and sent it to the Appropriations Committee.

Key issues remain unresolved, including which interests will be allowed to offer online gaming and participate in the market.

The chair of the Senate Governmental Organization, Sen. Isadore Hall, D-Compton, also has introduced an internet poker bill, as have two other Assembly lawmakers. Hearings on their bills are not expected until the summer. All of the measures are similar and seek to set up a regulatory framework for internet poker.

The proposals are targeted in negotiations that include representatives of casino-owning tribes, card clubs and horse-racing interests, among others. The committee’s approval of Gray bill moves the measure forward as negotiations continue.

“[It] is important to have a vehicle for the discussion and the work moving forward this year,” committee member Assemblymember Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said. “As we all know, this will be probably the monumental issue that this committee will deal with this year and it’s sure to have tremendous impacts for California. We want to make sure that it’s done right. ”

Key issues remain unresolved, including which interests will be allowed to offer online gaming and participate in the market, especially the horse tracks and the out-of-state entities, and how taxes regulatory fees will be imposed.

“There’s really what we call an issue-and-a-half, which deals with the race tracks and ‘bad actor’ language. That’s amongst all the tribes,” Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians said to the committee. “We have to work that out, we can. The way you do this is to move something… so we can debate it and come to a resolution.”

The Legislature has two joint informational hearings on the potential impact of legalized Internet poker in California set for May 20 and June 24. Gray indicated fleshed out bill language for AB 431 will be devised during these joint hearings.

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