Amended Version Of California Online Poker Bill AB 431

Inside The Amended Version Of California Online Poker Bill AB 431

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The amended version of AB 431 – a bill that seeks to regulate online poker in California – has been posted.

You can view the amended version here and the original version here.

The amended version reflects the changes from the original version, with struck language shown as strikethrough and new language shown in italics.

What changed?

AB 431 remains a “shell bill”

Let’s start with what didn’t change. Post-amendments, AB 431 is still effectively a shell bill, which is to say a bill that lacks the complement of details that will be a part of any bill that comes to a vote in the full Assembly or Senate.

Shift from authorization to intent

One of the potentially critical changes involves a simple shift of phrase in the digest.

The digest for AB 431 originally read that “[t]his bill would authorize the operation of an Internet poker Web site within the borders of the state” – that language became “[t]his bill would declare the Legislature’s intent regarding the authorization of Internet poker within the borders of the state.

Removal of CGCC

The original version of AB 431 called for the California Gambling Control Commission and the California DoJ to “promulgate regulations for intrastate Internet poker.”

The amended version removes all of that language and any reference to the CGCC and DoJ. Instead, now the bill declares that “the various aspects of Internet poker” will be “sanctioned and regulated by the state.”

“Qualified entities”

I suspect, but do not know, that this phrase represents a critical change.

New language in AB 431 limits operation of “Internet poker games” to “qualified entities.”

Such language was absent from the original bill. No definition of “qualified entities” is provided, but it’s difficult not to see hints of the two issues bedeviling California online poker – the participation of race tracks and PokerStars – in the phrase.

View the amended version of AB 431 here.

Changes helped pave way through committee

Changes in the bill’s original language are said to be what helped form the consensus – or at least lack of opposition – that allowed AB 431 to move through a critical vote in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee on April 27.

The bill was forwarded through on a unanimous vote.

Prior to the changes, several tribes – include the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians were registered as opposed to AB 431.

Following the amendments, those groups repositioned their stance on the bill to neutral.

“We look forward to a meaningful process and arriving at comprehensive legislation that respects California’s longstanding public policy of limited gaming, protects children and the vulnerable, creates jobs, provides additional revenues for the State, and protects consumers and the integrity of the gaming industry from organizations that do not and have not respected U.S. law,” Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro said in a statement following the vote.

Audio of the committee hearing is available here.

AB 431 will be fleshed out in coming weeks

Even post-amendments, AB 431 remains more of a statement of intent than a full-fledged legislative proposal. That will need to change in relatively short order if the bill is to move through the full Assembly and Senate.

Upcoming hearings

5/20/151:30 p.m. (Joint Assembly / Senate GO) —  Informational hearing: “Overview of Gambling in California–Legality, Authorization and Regulation”

This is an informational hearing that brings together the GO Committees for both the Assembly and Senate.

There will be no vote held at this hearing. The topic of the hearing suggests a broader focus beyond online poker, but expect certain aspects of the online poker debate – especially the issue of participation by tracks  – to loom large.

6/24/2015, 1:30 p.m. (Joint Assembly / Senate GO)  — Informational hearing: “The Legality of Internet Poker–How Prepared is California to Regulate It?”

Another informational hearing in front of the joint GO. Again, the hearing does not address any specific bill or result in a vote.

I’d expect a lineup and focus relatively similar to the hearing conducted last year. I’d also expect a lot of track to be laid regarding the needs and wants of the various agencies that would be involved in regulating online poker.

Critically, this hearing will provide one of the last, best chances to take the temperature of the various stakeholders and to handicap progress toward consensus.

7/8/15, 1:30 p.m. (Assembly GO)  — AB 9 Gatto; AB 167 Jones–Sawyer.

Arguably the most critical of the group as it could provide a sense of what – if any – final bill is emerging from the process. While the meeting is currently scheduled to cover AB 9 and AB 167, that could change – as could the content of the two bills in the months between then and now.

Other key dates

Along with the hearings, there are a number of key dates and deadlines to watch. Two things are worth noting:

  1. Bills with urgency clauses are not subject to many of the legislative deadlines below.
  2. Most – but not all – of the legislative deadlines below are softer than they appear, with lawmakers (especially those in positions of power) having a variety of procedural tools at their disposal to work around the calendar.

So the dates below are less a collection of drop-dead dates (save for the final one, of course) and more of a collection of dates to watch for activity that might indicate progress – or a lack thereof.

  • May 22 – June 7: No policy committee meetings.
  • June 5: Last day to pass bills out of house of origin.
  • July 17: Summer recess begins.
  • August 17: Recess ends.
  • August 31: End of committee meetings, except for Rules and Conference Committees.
  • September 4: Last day to amend bills on floor.
  • September 11: Last day for any bill to be passed.

Read all of our California coverage here.

- Chris is the publisher of Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.
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