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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

California Senator Wright Drafting Intrastate Online Poker Bill

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The plan to introduce intrastate online poker to the California legislature has been in motion since 2008. It wasn’t until February of 2010 that a State Senate hearing was held on the issue, but nothing materialized from it. However, it seems that one State Senator is very focused on the issue, with plans to draft legislation without delay and push for passage despite current opposition.

Senator Roderick Wright spoke recently at the GIGSE (Global iGaming Summit & Expo) in Montreal, where he told industry experts and interested parties that he is in the process of drafting legislation that will legalize, regulate, and tax online poker for California residents. He fully recognizes the financial benefits to the state, which is somewhere in the range of several billion dollars within the first few years of passage, and sees no reason to delay the process any longer. “We need to create a platform from which the state creates a profit from an asset,” he noted.”

Wright admitted that many Indian tribes in the state of California are not supportive of the idea, and there are details that will need to be worked out to stay in accord with state and federal tribal compacts, but he would like to put the bill into the hands of the state legislature with the purpose of working through those issues. The main goal is to introduce the bill as soon as possible.

In acknowledging the challenges from the tribes, he noted that working out those issues could take two to three years. “We could end up with a statute that ultimately ends up at the Supreme Court,” Wright admitted. The first issue to face, according to the Senator, was whether the compacts of the tribes will, in fact, be violated, though. His hope is that tribes will be able to bid on licenses just as other companies will be able to do, which removes the discriminatory factor the tribes have raised.

Also speaking at the GIGSE was Leslie Lohse, chairwoman of the CTBA (California Tribal Business Alliance), who alleged that tribes have exclusivity on gambling devices. She said, “It is a breach of the compacts California signed with the tribes to offer gaming devices when that electronic device allows a player to connect to a system and place a bet. That includes a computer.” She also noted that federal law backs up said compacts.

According to Wright’s estimate, California residents currently spend $4 billion per year on online poker websites owned by offshore companies, and his intention is to bring that money into California-based companies and reap the benefits for the financially-strapped state. “I am the consummate shopper,” he said. “I’m not a gambler. I need to provide a vehicle by which you [operators] can make money and I can get money [for California]. At the end of the day, we have to provide a better service and security to move the California players back from offshore operators.”

Though Wright gave no specific date that legislation would be introduced in California, he did say it would be very soon.

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