Preview of Today’s Critical California Online Poker Hearing

sealofCaliforniaLater today the Committee on Governmental Organization in the California Assembly will host a comprehensive online poker hearing.

This hearing could either be a catalyst leading to passage of an online poker bill or a harbinger of yet another legislative session where a consensus agreement cannot be reached by California’s many and diverse gaming interests.

According to an itinerary provided by Marco Valerio, the hearing will feature a number of panels with a full slate of expert speakers. The hearing will get started with Isadore Hall III, the Chairman of the GO committee, making an opening statement, and will end with a public comments segment. Sandwiched in between will be a host of panel discussions on a wide range of topics.

Here is an overview of each panel:

Panel 1

Background: How did Internet gaming evolve and what might the future hold from a legal, regulatory, financial, and operational standpoint?

  • Anita Lee, Legislative Analyst Office, Fiscal and Policy Analyst
  • Mark Lipparelli, Former Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board
  • Sanford I. Millar, J.D., MBT, General Counsel to Centaurus Games, LLC

Expect this to be quite an interesting panel with former Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman Lipparelli (now working as a consultant) and Sanford “Sandy” Millar, a lawyer whose industry ties go back to Ultimate Bet.

This should be a very pro-gaming panel.

Panel 2

Regulated Online Gaming in Nevada and New Jersey: Information, insight and analysis What’s the story so far and what can be learned?

  • Tobin Prior, Chief Executive Officer, Ultimate Gaming
  • Tom Ballance, President and COO, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, NJ
  • Chris Krafcik, Research Director NOIih America, GamblingCompliance

This will likely be another pro-gaming panel as Ballance and Prior will likely explain what their companies have learned and implemented thus far, while GamblingCompliance’s Chris Krafcik (one of the top iGaming experts in the world) can offer a wider view of regulated online gambling.

Panel 3

Tribal Government Perspective: How would iPoker in California affect current Tribal gaming operations and what might the future hold?

  • Mark Macarro, Chairman, Pechanga Band of Luisefio Indians
  • Bo Mazzetti, Chairman, Rincon Band of Luisefio Indians
  • Robert Smith, Chairman, Pala Band of Mission Indians
  • Lynn Val buena, Chairwoman, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
  • Jeff L. Grubbe, Chairman, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Gene Whitehouse, Chairman, United Auburn Indian Community
  • Robert Martin, Chairman, Morongo Band of Mission Indians in California

This could be the most contentious panel of the day (even trumping Andy Abboud who will close out the hearing) as the Morongo Band of Mission Indians is looking to have the “bad actor” language removed from the bill so they can advance their tentative agreement with PokerStars.

The rest of the tribes are likely to engage in serious pushback at any mention of PokerStars or bad actor clauses. Panel 7 will likely touch upon these issues as well.

Panel 4

California’s Card Clubs: How would the implementation of iPoker affect California’s card clubs and what impact will it have on their brick and mortar operations?

  • Ron Sarabi, General Manager, Hawaiian Gardens Casino
  • Keith Sharp, General Counsel, Hawaiian Gardens Casino and iPoker Counsel to Commerce Casino, Gardens Casino and Bicycle Casino
  • David Fried, Chief Counsel, California Grand Casino

This will likely be a very pro PokerStars panel as Hawaiian Gardens and Commerce are also looking to partner with PokerStars, and Keith Sharp has been one of the public voices calling for the removal of the bad actor clauses.

This panel also seems very underrepresented, as only three of California’s card rooms are represented.

Panel 5

California Horse Racing Industry: How would iPoker operations in California impact the Industry’s current operations and the overall future of this agribusiness?

  • Josh Rubenstein, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
  • Joe Morris, President, Thoroughbred Owners of California

Considering the horse racing industry isn’t even mentioned in the bills, it’s nice to see they will have a voice at the hearing. Expect this to be a very anti-online gambling panel.

Panel 6

Internet Gaming Service Providers: What can legislators, regulators and operators expect given the experience in legal markets to date and in the future?

  • Brian Mattingley, Chief Executive Officer, 888 Holdings
  • Chris Derossi, Chief Technology Officer, Ultimate Gaming
  • John Hindman, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, TVG/Betfair US
  • Brad Blackwell, Vice President, Legal, Churchill Downs, Incorporated

This will be a very pro-online gambling panel as these industry men laud the safeguards in place at the sites, and will likely make Abboud’s remarks during the last panel carry less weight as most of his “concerns’ will already have been addressed in the panels leading up to his.

Panel 7

Enforcement and Regulation: Are we ready from a regulatory standpoint and what would be needed to implement iPoker in California?

  • Wayne Quint Jr., Bureau Chief, California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Gambling Control
  • Richard J. Lopes, Chairman, California Gambling Control Commission

Here is where we should get the California regulators stance on bad actor clauses, and their initial assessment of PokerStars suitability.

Panel 8

What measures would need to be taken to ensure that iPoker in California is safe, secure, and reliable?

  • Kevin P. Mullally, V.P. of Government Relations & General Counsel, Gaming Laboratories International, LLC
  • Anna Sainsbury, Chief Executive Officer, GeoComply
  • Doug Lewin, Executive Vice President, Partnerships and Development, Optimal Payments

This will be another panel with positive commentary on online gambling.

Expect these third-party vendors to detail the current issues regarding payment processing and false negatives when it comes to player verification. With Abboud waiting in the wings I expect the panelists to talk about the success rates they have seen thus far, and the lack of any evidence of underage or problem gamblers gaining access to the sites.

Panel 9

Labor’s Perspective: How would the legalization of iPoker in California impact labor?

  • Jack Gribbon, Political Director, UNITE HERE
  • Barry Broad, Legislative Representative, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council
  • John Valenzuela, President, SEIU Local 280

This panel could go either way. Certainly they would rather see brick & mortar expansion which produces tangible jobs, but online poker is also a job creator; it will be interesting to see how much homework they have done on the topic, but my guess is this panel will be anti-online poker expansion.

Panel 10

Socio-Economic Affects: What might be the potential impact on Californians if iPoker was legal?

  • Terri Sue Canale, Deputy Director, California Office of Problem and Pathological Gambling
  • Andy Abboud, Vice President, Government Relations & Community Development, Las Vegas Sands Corp.
  • Reverend James Butler, Executive Director, California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion

Capping things off will be the fire and brimstone panel.

Terri Sue Canale may be the least vitriolic of the trio, as my experience with problem gambling experts has shown them to be very thoughtful and fair in their remarks, but don’t expect the same from Abboud and Rev. Butler.

The questions from the committee towards this panel will likely give us a clear indication of how the hearing went, and what online poker’s prospects in California are.


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