It was a history making day for California online poker, as the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee unanimously passed AB 431, an online poker bill introduced by GO Committee Chairman Adam Gray.
The vote marks the first time a California Committee has voted on, let alone passed, an online poker bill out of a committee in the almost seven years the state has been exploring online poker expansion.
The hearing also marks the first time the state’s numerous and diverse gaming interests were able to agree on, or at the very least not oppose, a bill moving forward, which explains the unanimous passage by the GO Committee.
Interestingly, Gray’s bill is best described as a “shell bill” due to its brevity and lack of any specific policies, yet it was the first online poker bill to pass these important steps in the process.
Pump the brakes a bit
There is a newfound optimism following the unanimous passage of AB 431 out of the GO Committee, but as several committee members highlighted in their closing remarks, the current version of AB 431 is a mere two pages and doesn’t delve into specifics of any kind.
Most notably, there is no mention of how the bill will solve the two remaining hurdles facing online poker legalization in the Golden State:
As Pechanga Chairman Mark Maccaro noted in his remarks, the tribe is currently neutral towards AB 431, provided the bill does not “expand gaming” by allowing racetracks to apply for online poker licenses. Pechanga has also made it clear in other recent statements that they are intent on having Bad Actor/Tainted Asset clauses included in any bill.
Without some type of consensus on these two issues (and none of the three sides – Pechanga coalition, PokerStars/Morongo coalition, or Racing, seem willing to give an inch) the bill has little chance of passing a full Assembly vote.
Racing and the Teamsters on board with AB 431
Representatives from several racetracks as well as the racing industry were on hand and all expressed their full support of AB 431, with the caveat that it allows California’s racetracks to apply for online poker licenses.
A representative from the Teamsters Union said the group “strongly supports” AB 431.
Morongo coalition supports AB 431
The coalition formed by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Commerce Casino, Hawaiian Gardens Casino and Bicycle Casino, along with Amaya/PokerStars issued the following statement on today’s historic vote:
“Today’s passage of AB 431 (Gray) out of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee represents a milestone for authorizing online poker in California. While this is just the first step in what will be a long process, it’s still important. Never before has an online poker bill had anything more than an informational hearing, much less been voted upon and passed out of committee.
“Finalizing the details of the legislation that will regulate California’s online poker marketplace still need to be worked out. But so far, 2015 is different. Hard lines and tough talk have morphed into open minds and dialogue. The vote today underscores the momentum building to help ensure that California finally passes iPoker legislation.
“Authorizing online poker will be good for millions of consumers and poker players who will benefit from a safe, regulated environment where they are protected. Every year that California fails to act not only puts consumers at risk while playing online games from offshore localities that provide few protections and regulations, but our state also loses out on collecting hundreds of millions of dollars that can be used for essential programs like public schools, public safety, healthcare and social services.
“Our coalition is committed to putting in the time necessary to establish a vibrant, competitive marketplace, one that provides superior consumer protections, requires strict oversight and regulation of operators and licensees, and ensures that the state receives a reasonable return.”
Representatives from the entire coalition, including Amaya, were on hand to voice their support for the bill.
Representatives from the RAP Coalition (Rincon, United Auburn, and Pala tribes) also expressed their support for the bill.
Pechanga and their allies tepidly neutral
Late last week the Pechanga tribe issued a statement opposing AB 431, but they withdrew their opposition following several amendments (which have not been posted online) that seemed to placate them.
At the Hearing, Pechanga Chairman Mark Maccaro, Agua Caliente Chairperson Jeff Grubbe, and representatives from the other tribes in the Pechanga coalition all toed the company line, signaling their neutrality toward the bill, but warning any infringement on their two core issues could push them back into the opposition camp.
The lone voice of opposition
Only a single person was present to speak out against AB 431, Reverend James Butler, who heads the anti-gambling group, the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion.
By the time Butler made his comments it was a foregone conclusion the bill was going to pass through the GO Committee.
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