The California state director for the Poker Players Alliance left last week's informational hearing in the California Senate Governmental Organization Committee convinced that the state's legislature will move forward on intrastate poker in the coming months.
"I think it's clear after the hearing that, if not for the financial mess the state is in, these hearings wouldn't even be held," Steve Miller said. "It's such a mess, and they are trying so hard to close the budget gap, that it seems like something is going to happen for certain."
Committee members showed how serious they were about exploring the matter by spending an entire day talking about poker. This wasn't like December's federal hearing in the House Financial Services Committee, which lasted about an hour and a half. The California hearing began at 9:30 a.m. and went well past 5 p.m.
Miller and PPA executive director John Pappas testified to represent the rights of poker players for the 127,255 PPA members from the state.
"The PPA respects the due diligence of the committee to investigate 'if' online poker can be regulated, and we stand here to tell you that it unquestionably can be regulated and, in fact, already is being regulated, very effectively, across the globe in well-respected jurisdictions," Pappas said in his testimony.
The PPA representatives expressed their preference that California wait for proposed federal legislation that would provide revenue for the state. However, if the state were to move forward on the intra-state level, Pappas tried to educate the California state senators on how a monopolistic system, as proposed by the Morongo Indian tribe, would not work.
Pappas expressed that any effort to regulate online poker that didn't provide the consumer benefits that players are accustomed to would fail to deliver optimum economic benefits to the state. An intrastate model would need to add competitive options for players rather than restricting them from the global marketplace.
Miller said he thought most of the testimony at the hearing favored an open infrastructure. The main obstacle is the Indian tribes.
Leslie Lohse, who chairs the California Tribal Business Alliance, threatened that if the state allows a non-Indian business to offer gaming devices, it would violate tribal gaming compacts and allow the tribes to stop paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the state's general fund.
Miller believes legislation to regulate intrastate poker will be introduced in California by the end of the February, probably by a state senator sympathetic to the Morongo tribe. Even if many members of the committee left the hearing with a better understanding of what needs to be done to create a model that will benefit the players and the state, there will need to be a lot of negotiation behind the scenes between the Indian tribes and the state before California could pass legislation that would interest poker players.
We'll be following this story as it progresses. Be sure to follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news.