Wednesday May 6,2015 : CALIFORNIAN ONLINE POKER LEGALISATION BILL EXAMINED (Update)
Still a long way from consensus.
The surge of enthusiasm at the news that an online poker legalization bill has at last managed to make it through a legislative committee in California has given way to a pragmatic assessment of AB431 – the bill in question.
Proposer Assemblyman Adam Gray (who is also chair of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee that progressed the bill last week) had wisely drafted a shell of a measure, anticipating that there would be conflicting interests and debate, and so it was.
In order to get even the shell bill through his committee, Assemblyman Gray had to compromise on its language, resulting in content that still leaves room for the competing interests to attempt to get their way.
The amendments published this week included:
* The removal of specific wording giving the California Gambling Control Commission and the California Department of Justice authority to decide who is suitable for licensing, and the substitution of the more general and undefined "sanctioned and regulated by the state” in its place.
This was and is the key to unlocking the "bad actor" impasse in which some tribal groups have attempted to exclude Pokerstars and other outside competition.
Supporters of the idea that an experienced regulator like the CGCC should decide who is suitable and who is not, rather than lawmakers, now find the issue remains unresolved.
* Pokerstars, and for that matter the racetracks whose participation in the market is being opposed by some tribes, could also be prejudiced by the inclusion of new language that generally restricts the operation of Internet poker games to unspecified “qualified entities,” leaving another avenue for exclusivity and obstruction open.
* The authority of the bill has even been devalued in the introductory passages by subtly changing the objective from "authorisation" to "intent to authorise".
* There is little in the way of detailed content, resulting in AB 431 remaining a bland shell as it moves on to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.
In short, bereft of specifics as it is, AB431 remains wide open to further amendment, debate and possibly failure if some sort of consensus cannot be achieved by legislators and the constituencies that are represented.
Several committee hearings on legalization remain on the slate; on May 20 an informational hearing will be held by the California Assembly and Senate Governmental Organization Committees sitting together (see previous InfoPowa report), and on June 24 the two houses again come together in the same committee for a further informational hearing.
Finally, two other legalization bills – Mike Gatto's AB9 and Reggie Jones-Sawyer's AB167 – are set to be considered by the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee on August 15.
To access the current amendments to AB431, use this link: