Voters Just As Torn On California Online Poker Legalization As Tribes

Tribal Survey Shows California Voters Oppose Online Poker

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A survey commissioned by a coalition of California American Indian tribes critical of draft legislation to legalize online poker found 52 percent of the state’s likely voters oppose the idea of playing poker on the internet.

The survey results were released Monday, two days before the state Assembly Appropriations Committee was scheduled to consider Amendments to AB 2863, sponsored by Assemblyman Adam Gray.

Is voter support for online poker legislation waning?

“Before hearing any arguments for or against, the statewide survey finds that 52 percent of likely November 2016 California voters oppose legislation to legalize and tax online poker,” Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) said in a summary of its survey results.

When those surveyed were told online poker is illegal but thousands of California residents play the game on unregulated websites without consumer protection, 41 percent said they supported legalization and 51 percent were opposed, FM3 said.

The trend seems to be turning away from legalization, FM3 said in comparing this year’s random telephone survey of 1,205 people with prior polling on the same subject.

In 2009, 54 percent of voters said they would support legislation to legalize online poker. Voter opinion was evenly split in a 2012 survey and dropped to 37 percent in favor and 47 percent against in 2014, FM3 said.

Some 74 percent of voters in this month’s survey agreed that foreign websites that violated federal law by accepting U.S. users should be disqualified from getting a license in California.

Suitability issue to take center stage at Appropriations

The coalition of seven tribes led by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is opposed to language in AB 2863 that would allow the licensing of foreign companies taking U.S. wagers after passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006.

One of those companies, PokerStars (purchased in 2014 by Amaya), has a business partnership with two tribes and three Los Angeles area card rooms that support Gray’s bill.

“Voters are clearly skeptical about legalizing online poker,” Pechanga Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro told the Los Angeles Times. “Even more toxic are provisions that would grant a license to foreign websites that illegally took bets from Californians in violation of federal law.”

A 2014 survey of online poker players by the Poker Players Alliance showed more than 80 percent of the respondents favored the company’s involvement in a regulated, statewide industry.

Appropriations on Wednesday is scheduled to deliberate proposed amendments to AB 2863 dealing with license suitability, “tainted assets” from wagers taken in alleged violation of UIGEA, and taxes and fees.

Current bill language would preclude licensing companies taking U.S. wagers after 2011, when PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker websites, were shut down by the Department of Justice on suspicion of violating UIGEA.

Committee Chairwoman Lorena Gonzalez wants the license prohibition moved to 2006, the year UIGEA was enacted. Companies accused of violating the act would not be allowed to operate in California before 2021 unless they paid $20 million to the state General Fund.

Licensing fees, taxes also points of contention

The committee will also consider amendments to tax and fee provisions of the act. AB 2863 currently calls for a $12.5 million license fee and a graduated tax of 8.847 to 15 percent.

Finally, a section of the act covering an annual $60 million subsidy to the racing industry may also be tweaked to ensure a 10 percent payment into the General Fund.

- 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.
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