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California Online Poker Bills Dead – Or Not Dead Yet?

Posted on by Tim Hernandez

CaliforniaDepending on which GO Chairman you listen to, the prospects for the regulation of online poker in California this year are dead, or still on life support.

In California, there are two Governmental Organization (GO) committees – one for the Senate and one for the Assembly. These committees have the role of discussing any Bills relating to public gaming and then either tabling the Bills to be heard by their respective houses, removing them from the table or letting them sit on the shelf until the deadlines have passed for them to be considered.

According to an article that appeared in Capitol Weekly on Saturday, the chairman of the Senate GO Committee – Senator Isadore Hall – has reportedly said that there will be no hearings scheduled by his committee this year on any online poker Bill. This apparently includes his own shell bill SB 278 that was introduced in February to parallel Adam Gray´s AB 431 in the State Assembly.

No Momentum to Carry Bills Forward

The source of the news story is David Quintana – a respected and influential lobbyist who founded the California Tribal Business Alliance and who is Legislative Director for the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. It was Quintana who earlier this year accused Hall and Gray of introducing their shell Bills in order to remain in control of the legislative process, rather than having any desire to see online poker in California.

According to Quintana and another unnamed source, Senator Hall said at the end of last week that there was no momentum to carry the Bills forward. Quintana said that the Senator would not even be attending the forthcoming joint Go committee hearing on “The Legality of Internet Poker–How Prepared is California to Regulate It?” which is scheduled for June 24.

Gray Disagrees – Says “Issue is Alive”

The author of the Capitol Weekly article reached out to Assemblyman Adam Gray for his comments on Senator Hall´s effective killing of online poker legislation in 2015. “This issue is alive – very much so,” Gray said. He went on to explain that stakeholder meetings were in progress, with the only options being presented to the interested parties being “Do we want to establish a framework for internet poker or do we want to do nothing?”

Gray added that his AB 431 – which has already passed through the Assembly GO Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee – did not have a deadline to beat ad could be heard on the Assembly floor as soon as a compromise between the stakeholders. He also has the option of changing his bill into a two-year Bill, which would keep it on the table for 2016.

Divisions Widened by Negative Advertising

Any of Adam Gray´s hopes that a consensus could be reached between California´s proposed i-poker stakeholders received a blow last week when the The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians launched a negative radio and online advertising that likened PokerStars to “Internet scam artists and conmen”. Claiming that PokerStars wanted to “gain access to every computer, smartphone and tablet in the state,” the Viejas tribe called on residents to tell their legislators that they did not want PokerStars´ con game in California.

Although PokerStars´ Head of Corporate Communications – Eric Hollreiser – dismissed the negative advertising as “lies and fear-mongering motivated by desperation”, the in-your-face advertising campaign is much more aggressive than PokerStars´ recent charm offensive and is likely to have much more of an impact amongst Californian voters – the people who keep the likes of Senator Hall and Assemblyman Gray in a job!

There is no doubt that the Viejas tribe´s negative advertising will have soured the stakeholder meetings that Adam Gray hopes will produce a consensus to carry his Bill forward, but is it the final nail in the coffin for the regulation of online poker in California, or has Gray got some previously unseen defibrillator that can restore a pulse back to the legislative process?

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