iPoker Bill Still a Possibility Says California Senator

An influential California legislator, Senator Isadore Hall (l.), tells iPoker supporters that there is still time to pass a bill in the 2015 session. He has included an urgency clause in his bill that keeps that hope alive. Meanwhile, PokerStars has launched a website designed to pave the way for iPoker in the state, including the controversial company.

California State Senator Isadore Hall, sponsor of SB 278 that would legalize iPoker in the Golden State, has included an urgency clause in his bill that keeps open the possibility that it might pass the legislature this year.

This is at odds with some reports in recent days that proponents had just about given up hope on the bill for 2015. The June 5 edition of Capitol Weekly had quoted lobbyist David Quintana as predicting that Hall would not be holding a hearing on the bill this year. Hall is chairman of the Senate Government Organization Committee, whose jurisdiction including gaming.

An anonymous source close to the senator told one reporter that the bill was not yet dead. The urgency clause allows the bill to be excluded from normal legislative deadlines.

At the same time, however, no Senate hearings have yet been scheduled on the bill.

Online poker remains a controversial issue because about 15 gaming tribes interested in legalizing it can’t agree on key issues. One of them is whether a “bad actor” clause should be included that would effectively prevent PokerStars from participating as an online provider. The other is whether or not racetracks will be allowed a place at the table. Some tribes want to exclude them and limit participation to gaming tribes and card rooms.

Last week the Pala Band of Luiseno Mission Indians clarified its stance on the internet poker bills currently before the legislature. It opposes them. “Pursuant to recent media reports, it may be inferred that CTBA is opposed to the internet poker bills currently before the California state legislature,” Robert Smith, chairman of the tribe wrote in a statement.

Pala owns Pala Interactive, which operates online poker in New Jersey. It is part of a coalition that includes Viejas, which is one of ten tribes opposing both PokerStars and racetracks.

Meanwhile the Assembly’s Government Organization Committee is holding a hearing this week on iPoker. That committee’s chairman, Adam Gray, is the sponsor of a “shell” bill that has little actual language in it but requires being filled out.

Quoted by Capitol Weekly, Gray said, “This issue is alive – very much so. We’re in the process of holding stakeholder meetings. Do we want to establish a framework for internet poker or do we want to do nothing?”

Hearings on bills sponsored by Assemblymen Reginald Jones Sawyer and Mike Gatto will be held this summer.

PokerStars began fighting for inclusion earlier this month when it unveiled a new website, californians4poker.com in reaction to a radio ad campaign funded by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians that named PokerStars, calling it “corrupt.”

Besides promoting online poker, the website also strives to educate the public as to why online poker would benefit the state. PokerStars coalition includes the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the San Manuel Band, Commerce Hotel & Casino, Bicycle Hotel & Casino and the Hawaiian Gardens Casino.

The site invites visitors to take a survey and sign a form showing support for online poker.

According to the website’s “statement of principles”: Experiences in other regulated environments have demonstrated that the most successful marketplaces are inclusive and provide consumers access to a variety of trusted, well-regulated choices.

It adds, “Legislation authorizing iPoker in California should do the same: establish a vibrant, competitive, fully inclusive marketplace with choices for consumers and strong consumer protections; strict oversight and regulation of operators and licensees; and a financial return for the state.”

For six years supporters of online poker have introduced bills in the legislature. According to the website, “it is clear that stakeholders must reach substantial consensus in order for any bill to pass.”

The statement calls on the legislature to “ensure safe, secure and regulated access to real-money online poker in California,” by securing consumer personal date, providing accountability of the games, and “maximize integrity of the games.”

In addition, it calls for strong vetting of service providers by the California Gambling Control Commission, subjecting them to the same kind of suitability hearings that brick and mortar casinos go through.

It also calls on regulators to determine the suitability of providers, rather than writing that into the law as a way to exclude some participants, such as PokerStars.

To battle that, PokerStars and its partners in California have launched a new ad campaign to support regulated online poker in the state.

The campaign comes from Californians for Responsible iPoker, an initiative backed by a coalition comprised of Amaya Gaming—owners of PokerStars—the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Commerce Casino and the Bicycle and Hawaiian Gardens card clubs.

The ads position regulated and licensed sites as a way of fighting unlicensed offshore poker sites that illegally accept bets from U.S. players.

The campaign includes web display ads and radio spots. The CRI website launched last week at californians4ipoker.com.

The campaign also comes after radio ads from the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians began running in the state attacking PokerStars for its past problems with the U.S. Department of Justice, but does not respond directly to those ads. They also don’t reference any specific legislative plan for online poker before the California legislature.

The ads do prompt Californians to contact their legislators and urge them to regulate online poker in the state.

Later this summer the “Let California Play!” PokerStars Pro Tour will launch, bringing PokerStars celebrity poker pros to cardrooms throughout California. The group is hoping to educate state residents about online poker.

“We intend to push online poker over the finish line,” said San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena. “Authorizing online poker by creating a strictly regulated marketplace in California is the right thing to do for consumers, and it’s the right thing to do for the state.”