Joint CA Online Poker Hearings Expected Later This Month

Joint Assembly / Senate Hearings In The Works For Online Poker In California

CA online poker hearings
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Joint California Senate and Assembly committee hearings are in the works in an effort to move along online poker legislation industry officials hope will jump-start a decidedly unimpressive Internet gambling launch in the United States.

Joint informational hearings by the state’s Senate and Assembly Government Organization committees, whose chairmen are sponsors of identical online poker “shell” bills lacking specific language, are expected to be held later this month, Capitol Hill sources said.

“Nothing has been finalized or approved, but the chairs of each committee are considering holding a couple of joint informational hearings on the issue so all the new members of each committee have a better understanding of the complexities of Internet gambling,” Senate GO Committee Director Art Terzakis said Tuesday. 

But making a May Day deadline for “non-urgency” legislation sponsored by Senate GO Committee Chair Isadore Hall and Assembly counterpart Adam Gray and getting a bill through the legislature in 2015 is certainly not guaranteed.

“The deadline is fast approaching,” Terzakis said. 

Lack of consensus still a major hurdle

And there remains a split on bill language among a dozen American Indian tribes political insiders believe are crucial to getting online poker legislation through the legislature.

Captains of the online gambling industry are hopeful legalization of online poker in the Golden State, with some 38.3 million residents, will ignite a slumbering U.S. online gambling industry thus far highlighted by unimpressive results in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware.

“We’re at a challenging period for I-gaming in America,” Sue Schneider, founder of eGamingBrokerage.com, told delegates to the iGaming North America (iGNA) conference Tuesday in Las Vegas.

As Internet wagering moves state-by-state with the absence of federal legislation, California “could be a game-changer,” Renalto Ascoli, CEO of NA Gaming Interactive, said following an iGNA keynote.

But consensus among California’s politically powerful Indian tribes remains elusive.

Pechanga entrenched against race track inclusion

Sources with seven tribal members of a coalition headed by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, told Online Poker Report they believe agreement can be reached on “bad actor” and “tainted assets” provisions of proposed legislation.

But the Pechanga coalition is steadfast against extending eligibility for website licenses beyond tribes and card rooms to the state’s racing industry. The group contends licensing the tracks would violate voter-approved public policy against expanded gambling in California.

There are four online poker bills pending in the state Legislature.

The Hall and Gray bills do not address licensing eligibility. Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s AB9 limits licenses to tribes and card rooms. Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer’s AB167 extends license eligibility to the tracks.

The bills would require 2/3rds vote of the legislature for passage.

Tribal sources said the combined political clout of the tribes and Amaya/PokerStars could offset opposition to online poker legislation that excludes licensing the tracks.

But other tribes believe racing support is necessary in getting a bill through the legislature.

The pari-mutuel industry, which includes tracks, thoroughbred owners and breeders and powerful unions, is opposed to any online poker bill that would not extend licenses to the industry. It claims it will not accept a subsidiary of revenue from online poker. 

Gov. Jerry Brown reportedly said he would not sign a bill into law that does not address the needs of the racing industry.

Focus of hearings remains uncertain

The hearing process remains tentative, Terzakis said, and it would be premature to suggest topics and who would be invited to testify.

“What the agenda looks like and who is going to testify … it’s too early for that,” he said.

With half the members of the Senate GO committee being newly elected, the education process may be just beginning, particularly in a state with a diverse gambling industry consisting of tribal casinos, card rooms, race tracks, charitable bingo and a lottery.

“The first hearing may be just an overview of gambling in California,” he said.

Image Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

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Dave Palermo
- Dave Palermo is an award-winning metropolitan newspaper reporter. He has written about American Indian governments for more than 20 years, working as an advocate for several tribes and tribal associations. He also has co-authored books on gambling and gambling law.