Mike Gatto Defends Online Poker Bill in Op-Ed

December 22nd, 2014 | by Greg Shaun
California online poker bill 2015

Mike Gatto says his bill will alleviate all of the concerns that opponents have over online poker in California. (Image: Eric Risberg/AP)

A California online poker bill proposed by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) has received its fair share of criticism since he introduced it earlier this month.

But Gatto believes in his legislation, and took to writing an op-ed for U-T San Diego that outlined exactly why he felt his take on Internet poker was the one that would finally get enough people on board to regulate in the game in California.

For those unfamiliar with Gatto’s bill, which has been designated “AB 9,” it would allow for only online poker and not other Internet gambling games.

The legislation would only let card rooms and tribal groups that operate casinos run the online poker sites, and also includes a bad actor clause, one that could keep PokerStars out of the state.

However, it does also contain a pathway for Amaya and other companies to work their way back into the good graces of state regulators.

In-Person Registration Could Be Contentious

All of these features have been seen in previous bills, both in California and in other states.

But Gatto’s legislation has at least one completely unique policy: it would require initial sign-ups and deposits to take place at a live casino or card room.

This has proven to be one of the major points of interest in the bill, as there are clear positives and negatives that come with such a policy, and the balance of those outcomes might be what determines how much support the bill ultimately receives.

In the op-ed, Gatto laid out his defense of the in-person registration requirement, saying that it was a direct response to the concerns of online poker opponents.

In particular, he pointed out four concerns he had heard: that online gambling would take money away from brick-and-mortar establishments, that smaller operators would be left out of the market, that online poker could facilitate money laundering, and that minors could gamble on such sites.

“Can policymakers address these concerns and secure much-needed revenue for California? I think so, and I am prepared to introduce legislation that does just that,” Gatto wrote.

Requirements Compared to Banking Industry

Gatto went on to say that he would meet these concerns by borrowing the kinds of protections that work for the banking industry.

“Just like opening a bank account, the only way to open an online-poker account in California would be to present yourself in person at a ‘branch’ and be ‘validated’ by showing two forms of identification,” wrote Gatto. “Under this proposal, qualified existing gaming establishments, even those which don’t operate a poker website, could serve as initial validators, as long as the meet stringent security criteria.”

Those sites, which are called “satellite service centers” in Gatto’s bill, are a major selling point of the legislation. The idea is that these smaller casinos and card rooms could still gain foot traffic by offering deposits and withdrawals even if they weren’t large enough to compete in the online poker market directly.

But there is a downside to such an in-person requirement, and several people were quick to point this out to Gatto on Twitter.

“Making people sign up in person would doom online poker to failure,” tweeted Luke Johnston. “People won’t bother.”

“The in-person clause is not needed,” wrote Eric Sprague. “NJ is doing fine stopping minors, money laundering and other issues without it.”

That said, there are those who said they wouldn’t be dissuaded by a trip to their local casino.

“In person sign-up not onerous at all,” tweeted Dave Epelone. “I’ll be first in line.”

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