THE FIGHT: California Online Poker Shelved Again

After three years of squabbling among California card rooms, racetracks, tribal gaming interests and other gambling concerns, online poker players hoped that the California gaming industry would unify this year and win THE FIGHT to legalize online poker. There were encouraging signs along the way, but it looks like online poker’s Humpty Dumpty has suffered another great fall.

The end started in promising fashion earlier this week. State Sen. Lou Correa introduced substantial amendments to his placeholder internet poker bill that fleshed out his current vision for regulated online poker in the Golden State. Correa’s amendments had the blessing of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a powerful tribal gaming group.Correa’s amendments came about two weeks after remarks by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to the Sacramento Bee that suggested there was still a chance for online poker before the September 13 end of the current legislative session.

“I’m willing to help see it through if there’s a bit little more of a consensus,” Steinberg said.

That hope died when the gaming industry, lobbyists and legislators picked through the guts of the amended Correa bill. It differed significantly from a bill introduced earlier in the year by Sen. Roderick Wright and a draft bill being circulated by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. Consensus was nowhere to be found.

Within a day of the Correa amendments, the Poker Players Alliance wrote on Twitter that, “sources confirm that amended Correa bill will not be brought up b4 end of session. work on iPoker to continue over Fall recess.”

Political bickering

No Robert the Bruce has emerged to unite the clans of California’s gambling industry.

It’s the same old story in California. Last year Steinberg co-authored a bill with Wright that failed to “unite the clans”. In 2011 Correa and Wright both introduced bills that went nowhere due to gaming industry in-fighting and the lack of consensus over which approach was best.  Wright introduced a bill in 2010 that was so hated by various factions of that industry that Wright wound up withdrawing it a few months later.

In August of 2011, when it was clear that neither the Wright bill nor the Correa bill would make it to a floor vote, Steinberg said that, “There is time to get this right, and it is imperative that we do so.”

Earlier this year it seemed like progress was being made. A tribal gaming coalition headed by the Pechanga Band circulated a draft bill. A cover letter on the bill noted that it is “important for elected leaders of tribal governments to come together and identify both challenges and solutions presented by Internet poker. Indian County simply cannot afford to get this policy wrong.”

In the end, all the repeated pronouncements of the absolute necessity of passing a suitable internet poker bill were nothing but hot air. None of the factions were willing to cede enough ground to find a middle point with which all stakeholders could be happy. That leaves California’s 38 million residents on the sidelines of internet poker for yet another year.

THE FIGHT to legalize online poker is hard enough when all of the game’s proponents are on the same page. When they fight with one another, the battle is lost before it’s begun.

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Kevin McGrady

Legislative and Politics Beat Writer: Kevin McGrady practiced corporate law in New York City for eight years before moving to Las Vegas in 2008 to join the gaming industry. Kevin is a graduate of New York University and Columbia University School of Law.
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