The publication of amendments to Adam Gray´s California i-gaming Bill (AB 431) reveal just how far he had to climb down to get his (lack of) proposals passed.
Just over a week ago, supporters of regulated online poker in California were celebrating the passage of AB 431 through the Governmental Organization Committee and onto a procedural committee which would eventually move the bill onto the floor of the Assembly for a debate.
Although just a shell bill of two pages, with nothing about how online poker in California would be licensed or regulated, the passage of the bill has hailed as “historic”. Hopes were raised that compromises were being reached between the opposing stakeholders and that online poker in California would become a reality in the near future.
However, following the publication of amendments made to the bill prior to the committee meeting, it would appear that a consensus of opinion is just as far away as ever. Furthermore, questions are being asked about why a committee meeting was even held to hear arguments for and against what effectively are two blank pieces of paper!
What Got Changed and Why
Even though there were fewer than three hundred words in the content of the bill, the Pechanga and Agua Caliente tribal nations – the two tribal nations opposed to the participation of racetracks and PokerStars – found plenty to dislike in the original proposals.
To get them onside for the bill – or at least to change their position from “opposed” to “neutral” – Gray made several significant climb-downs. Among these was a change to the intent of the bill so that it no longer “authorizes the operation of an Internet poker website within the borders of the state”, but now “declares the Legislature´s intent regarding the authorization of Internet poker”.
All references to the California Gaming Control Commission and the California Department of Justice have been removed – the two bodies that would have implemented Californian online poker legislation – and a new passage introduced proposing that “Internet poker games are … … operated by qualified entities” – seemingly an indiscrete nod to the Pechanga and Agua Caliente tribes.
So, Why Hold the Committee Meeting?
Although it would appear that the committee meeting discussed a “do nothing” bill and then passed it by a unanimous majority, there were reasons for AB 431 being heard. The bill had a May 1st deadline to pass through committee or else it risked being shelved. Adam Gray wants to keep the bill alive so that he retains some control over the legislative process when it comes to the committee hearing other online poker proposals from Mike Gatto and Reggie Jones-Sawyer on July 8th.
It is also worth remembering that the original hearing of AB 431 was postponed – apparently without reason, but now we know it was to pen the amendments that would appease the tribes. So, although the amendments achieved the purpose of getting the bill through the committee stage, its passage is no cause for celebration because the stakeholders in Californian online poker are no closer to a compromise than they were before the hearing.
Hopefully the next two online poker-related hearings of the Governmental Organization Committee can do something to reverse the embarrassing climb-down by Assemblyman Gray. On 20th May the Senate and Assembly committees will host a joint hearing to discuss an “Overview of Gambling in California – Legality, Authorization and Regulation”. This will be followed by a second joint hearing on 24th June, when the topic of discussion will be “The legality of Internet Poker – How Prepared is California to Regulate It?” – The answer being “Not At All” if you have to climb down against every objection in order to get your proposals passed!