ow was the bill born?
There have been attempts to authorize online poker in California over the last few years have gone nowhere because of a lack of stakeholder consensus over a number of issues. My staff and I had done much research on this topic and I was prepared to introduce a bill last year, but I deferred to the chairman of the Assembly committee that oversees gaming in California. Since his departure from the Assembly, I decided to pursue the issue because there is a feeling that California must take action this year in light of signals from the U.S. Congress that they may take some action on online gaming.
Do you think the new online poker bill will solve external challenges and industry issues? What are the main points of this new bill that differ from previous bills, all of which have failed?
AB 9 builds on previous versions of legislation introduced in California that sought to authorize the operation of online poker. This bill contains new provisions that will enhance security to address concerns about underage players and financial crimes. It also "expands the pie" with provisions that will allow participation in online poker by entities that may not necessarily be able to actually operate an online poker website. These new provisions were drafted in an effort to address concerns by groups who may not necessarily support the expansion of gaming due to concerns over financial crimes and underage gaming.
The provisions are:
•Requiring the opening of an account and initial deposit to be done in person at a brick-and-mortar establishment- This in-person verification will prevent underage players from opening accounts as well as prevent players from using stolen credit cards to fund new accounts. It will also prevent anyone who might try to use these sites to launder money by connecting a name and face to an account.
•The creation of Satellite Service Centers- These will be brick-and-mortar facilities that are already licensed to offer poker, but may not be able to operate a website. A website operator will be able to partner with these facilities to enable registration and deposits, as well as withdrawals. Though they may not operate a website, they would be able to get a "piece of the pie" with the foot traffic created by players making transactions at these facilities.
•In-person withdrawals over a certain amount- Again, in an effort to prevent money laundering, withdrawals over a certain amount will be required to be done in person in order to verify the identity of those withdrawing funds. We will work with stakeholders to find the amount that balances player convenience with security.
All three of these provisions will prevent underage gaming, financial crimes, and other types of fraud (i.e. people who would try to open "bot" accounts).
What are the main obstacles this bill will have to overcome in order to be approved?
I think everyone involved in the effort to bring online poker to California acknowledges that the biggest obstacle to overcome is how to effectively deal with companies that continued to do business in the United States after the passage of the UIGEA in 2006. It is certainly my goal to try and bring together people on both sides of this issue to craft a compromise that both sides can live with. As I’ve told everyone from the beginning, the current language of the bill is an opening position that will, no doubt, evolve over the coming year.
Will the bill be able to satisfy everyone’s needs? Who are the beneficiaries of the bill?
Regulated online poker will bring a number of benefits to California. Obviously it would create a new revenue stream to the state. Just as important, it will create a secure environment where players will have certainty in a number of areas- account security, access to funds, fair games. California players who may be playing on off-shore sites are often putting their funds at risk due to a lack of regulation of these sites. If players know that they can get a fair game and can actually count on getting their funds upon withdrawal, we will bring many of them home. This will grow the market and bring revenue to all participants, from players to operators.
How do you see global gaming legislation today?
There is no doubt that online poker is a growing and thriving industry around the world. There has been an evolution in the industry as various countries have taken steps towards legalization and real regulation of the industry. This has been a good thing for everyone involved as a well regulated industry provides security and certainty to players from the integrity of games offered to the security of deposits and withdrawals. This, in turn, provides more revenue to the jurisdictions that have legalized online poker. It is my hope that we can soon add California to the list of jurisdictions that benefit from a legitimate and well regulated online poker industry.