International edition
June 14, 2021

It was expected to generate as much as us$ 6 billion in annual revenues for the state

California online poker bill suffers setback

(US).- A bill to allow online poker in California was withdrawn by its sponsor before even going to a Senate vote, setting back the chances of legal online gambling in the United States. The bill stalled amid opposition and its author, senator Rod Wright, saying he will “never get a consensus”.

T

he bill proposed that the state would take a large cut of the profits and it was expected it could generate as much as us$ 6 billion in annual revenues for the beleaguered Californian finances.

Roderick Wright, the California Democrat Senator for Inglewood, withdrew his intrastate poker bill after strong opposition from the state’s Indian gaming tribes and card clubs. Ironically these interest groups had been among the most vocal supporters of the bill when it was first introduced.

Wright acknowledged that their fierce opposition had started when it became clear that his bill would allow Nevada gaming companies and foreign gambling groups to bid for the licence to provide online poker in California. Both card clubs and Indian tribes said that unless they were allowed to run the poker operations then their existing businesses could be hit hard and jobs would be lost.

He said he would continue to fight for the legislation, saying he believed that the large number of Californians who currently played online poker would be better off doing so in a regulated and taxed environment.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians and card clubs, including the Commerce Casino and the Hollywood Park Casino, argued that Senate Bill 1485 would allow offshore poker sites and Las Vegas casinos to run web gambling in California. The protests, including rival tribes’ persistent opposition to any online poker, persuaded Wright to cancel the vote.

“This bill still needs a great deal of work,” said Wright during a meeting of the Senate Governmental Organisation Committee, where the bill was scheduled. “For every issue, there were people who liked it and people who hated it.”

The news was a blow for the intrastate lobby group Poker Voters of America, which had been supporting the intrastate drive in California and Florida, and had expected the legislation to come out of the hearing with the required six votes.

Wright remains hopeful that opposition can be allayed, although he does not expect the bill to make it out of the Senate this year. “The world isn't standing still while we figure out what to do,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more difficult it will become to get that business back to the state as different outlets of gambling become available and more entrenched.”

Morongo spokesman Patrick Dorinson had said the bill could not be supported because of the fear of offshore companies bidding for three available five-year contracts: “It would take money out of the state.” The Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations said the bill would endanger jobs in local communities where tribes are the largest employers. The Poker Players Alliance also criticised a provision in the bill that would make it a misdemeanor to visit unauthorised gambling websites.

California has huge online revenue potential. According to the bill’s analysis, legalising poker could generate as much as us$ 2.1 billion per year. Poker Voters of America claims it could be worth up to us$ 6.1 billion by 2020.

Lloyd Levine, a former state lawmaker who drafted the first intrastate bill while a California Assemblyman in 2008, and now a consultant for Poker Voters, put the blame firmly at the feet of the Morongo. “It seems to me that Morongo's opposition is not on principle but on the fact that they don't get to own the whole thing,” Levine told the Sacramento Bee. 

The bill was largely considered a gateway to wider acceptance of online gambling across the United States. It was widely thought that bingo in California would be the next type of gambling legalized after poker because of its widespread acceptance and low levels of gambling addiction among players.

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