Pechanga Rescinds Neutrality to California Online Poker Bill

sealofCaliforniaThe California Assembly Appropriations Committee will vote on AB 431, Adam Gray’s online poker bill that unanimously passed (20-0) the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee on April 27.

The bill’s fate in the Appropriations Committee has suddenly become far less certain, as AB 431 lost a crucial bloc of support this week.

First reported by GamblingCompliance’s Chris Krafcik, in a letter dated May 21 and sent to the Appropriations Committee and key figures in the state legislature, Pechanga and eight allies returned to their previous position, opposing the bill, and opposing it moving forward at this point in time.

A second letter, dated May 22 and authored by the Morongo/PokerStars coalition, supported AB 431 and calls for the bill to move forward for the benefit of California:

“Authorizing online poker will be good for millions of consumers and poker players who will benefit from a safe, regulated, commercial gaming 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.”  

The invoking of consumer protections is a new approach to the debate, but one the Morongo/PokerStars coalition, and others, have been focusing on as of late.

Read the full letter here.

Opposed, neutral, and back to opposed

Prior to the historic hearing in the GO Committee, a coalition led by the Pechanga Tribe, voiced their opposition to the bill in a written letter to the legislature. Fearing this opposition would derail the bill, Adam Gray made some 11th hour changes to the terse document to satisfy Pechanga and its allies.

During the hearing the Pechanga coalition was officially “neutral” towards the newly amended Gray bill, which despite the amendments was still nothing more than a shell bill, with scant details on what it would do beyond legalizing online poker.

Pechanga’s neutrality didn’t last very long.

Pechanga wants specifics

Pechanga’s renewed opposition to AB 431 appears to stem from the bill’s current lack of specifics.

The letter reads in part:

“Continuing to pass this measure as a spot bill does not advance a state regulatory structure for iPoker. The issues that divide stakeholders remain unresolved. Moving the bill at this time would be directly counterproductive to any internet poker effort, which we know is not the goal of the author, who has told us he desires to be the neutral party bringing stakeholders together on this issue, if indeed that is possible.”

Read the full letter here.

Where most people read “bringing stakeholders together” as brokering a compromise between two or more parties, in California tribal politics this apparently means someone who sits on the sidelines until one side caves into all of the other’s demands.

Where this is headed

The most likely outcome for California online poker legalization in 2015 is more of the same. The bills that have been introduced will wither and die on the vine, while the principles involved continue to argue over the specifics.

A second possibility (one that is far less likely) would be a showdown that pits the three main factions political clout – the Morongo/PokerStars coalition, the Pechanga coalition, and horseracing/labor – against one another.

We should have a clearer picture of where this is heading following today’s hearing.

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