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Online Poker Legislation Reintroduced in California -- With Big Changes

Online Poker Legislation Reintroduced in California -- With Big Changes 0001

California Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer reintroduced his online poker legislation with significant changes on the two issues that derailed passage of the bill last year — the so-called bad actor clause and exclusion of horse racing tracks.

AB 167 would soften bad-actor language to allow for PokerStars participation and not give licensing eligibility to the racing industry. This is a reverse on bills submitted in previous years and in contrast to AB 9 introduced last month by Assemblyman Mike Gatto.

Jones-Sawyer said in a statement that the reintroduction comes after a collaborative discussion process that included substantial input from the state's Department of Justice and Gambling Control Commission, which pushed the introduction back from his original goal of December.

There is still dissent in the industry on the bad-actor language, which was softened only to exclude a person who has been convicted of a felony for having accepted a bet over the Internet in violated of U.S. or state law, or person who has contemptuously defied a legislative body investigating crimes related to poker.

Predictably, the coalition partnered with PokerStars — including the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and California's three largest card clubs – now support the legislation.

“In place of previous attempts to use the legislative process to provide competitive advantages to a few operators, Assembly Member Jones-Sawyer's bill brings parties with diverse interests together to move legislation forward,” the coalition expressed in a statement. “It is time to move on, and move forward. We are pleased that Assembly Member Jones-Sawyer recognizes this. We applaud his efforts to shift the discussion in a new and hopefully more fruitful direction.”

Pechanga chairman Mark Macarro, however, indicated that there is much for the tribes to dislike about the bill.

“We are disappointed that the bill disregards important principles from a broad coalition of respected tribes and card rooms that help prevent corporations and entities that previously violated federal law from profiting from tainted software, brands, and databases derived from illegal activity,” Macarro said in a statement.

He is also opposed to horse racing's inclusion, saying, “Tribes have been steadfast in the principle that online poker be consistent with California's longstanding public policy of limited gaming, and that means keeping it to just tribes and card rooms. California voters have already had the final say on gaming expansion and they have already rejected expansion of gaming for horse racing.”

Another key difference in the bill is the removal of language preventing agreements to pool players with other states.

From a player's standpoint, the bill includes criminal penalties for playing on an unlicensed site.

Internet poker was first discussed in the California state legislature seven years ago, but there has never been a vote in any committee on previous bills. That may change this year.

Gatto said he and Jones-Sawyer spoke about the issue for an hour last week and he thinks they will end up working together in an attempt to pass online poker legislation this year. He said he hopes for the first committee hearing on a bill to be held in April.

“I think there's a major opportunity for us to work together,” Gatto said. “I left the meeting with Mr. Jones-Sawyer feeling very comfortable about his willingness to work together and the likelihood that eventually there will be only one bill.”

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