California Online Poker Hearing Mostly A Dud

May 22nd, 2015 | by Kaycee James
California online poker hearing legislature

Adam Gray presided over a fairly uneventful hearing on California Internet poker. (Image: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

If California is to regulate online poker, it will take a number of hearings, votes, and debates before it will finally happen.

And while there may be some exciting moments along the way, we shouldn’t expect fireworks at every step of the process.

So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a Wednesday hearing before the California Senate and Assembly Governmental Organization committees on the subject of online gambling didn’t provide a dramatic breakthrough.

Little Testimony About Core Issues

Some of the witnesses at the hearing, which was titled “Overview of Gambling in California: Legality, Authorization and Regulation,” spoke about the general state of the California gaming industry, and how the Internet might bolster it.

For instance, Anita Lee of California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office spoke about the current scope of gaming in the state, noting that tribal casinos bring in $7 billion a year, with card rooms taking in another $850 million in revenue.

Speaking on behalf of the California State Lottery, Paul LaBrie said that the agency was still looking into the possibility of online ticket sales, and that such an offering might attract younger players.

The California Department of Justice was also on hand to talk about the potential regulatory difficulties of online poker.

Four different representatives mentioned that the department would need significantly more employees to handle the work that would come with online poker regulation, with legislators promising that those new workers would be approved if Internet poker got a green light.

Horse Racing Industry Wants In

That’s not to say that online poker wasn’t talked about directly.

One of the major issues in the debate over regulating online poker in California is whether or not the horse racing industry will be able to be a part of the new industry, and California Horse Racing Board Executive Director Rick Baedeker was on hand to plead their case.

Baedeker noted that at the moment, horse racing betting is the only form of online gambling allowed in California, with online bets making up more than a quarter of all revenue for the industry in the state.

He also said that while race tracks were basically the only form of gambling allowed in California for 40 years, the introduction of casinos, card rooms and other forms of gambling has seen wagering on horse racing drop by 45 percent.

“Given its long history in the state, deep roots in the California greenbelt and 13 years of legal online wagering, racing should receive every consideration to participate in Internet poker if it becomes a reality here in California,” Baedeker said.

Key Issues Still Need Resolution

Overall, however, the hearing added little to the conversation around California’s online poker debate. Some legislators even seemed to anticipate the relative lack of importance: Senate Governmental Organization chairman Isadore Hall (D-Compton) didn’t even attend the hearing, though his Assembly counterpart, Adam Gray (D-Merced) was there to head the discussion.

Both Hall and Gray have submitted online poker bills to the California legislature, as has Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who was also in attendance at the hearing.

Currently, progress on Internet poker in California seems to hinge on two key issues that will need to be resolved before a bill can be passed.

One is the aforementioned inclusion (or exclusion) of the horse racing industry; the other is whether the legislation will include a bad actor clause that would prevent PokerStars (and other companies that offered online poker in the United States after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed) from being considered for licenses in the state.

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