Bill to legalize online poker in Calif. stalls

Bill to legalize online poker in Calif. stalls

June 30, 2010 8:51 AM


A bill aiming to make California the first state to legalize and regulate online poker stalled Tuesday in the Legislature.

Sen. Rod Wright, the bill's author, said he is temporarily pulling it from consideration as he addresses some of the concerns raised by opponents.

"This bill still needs a great deal of work," the Inglewood Democrat said during a meeting of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, where the bill was scheduled to come up for a vote. "For every issue, there were people who liked it and people who hated it."

Wright said online poker is here to stay and that California should take advantage of its huge revenue potential. More than 1 million Californians play online poker each week, according to the bill's analysis, and legalizing the game could generate as much as $2.1 billion annually.

SB1485 would have authorized the state to contract with gambling operators, including Indian tribes, to offer poker over the Internet to state residents age 21 and older. At least 10 percent of the monthly profits would have gone to the state, which faces a $19 billion deficit.

Numerous tribal groups opposed the bill, saying it threatens their federally authorized casinos.

In a June 17 letter to Wright, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association said the bill would endanger jobs in local communities where tribes are the largest employers.

Others criticized a provision in the bill that would make it a misdemeanor to visit unauthorized gambling websites.

"Criminalizing harmless recreational conduct that typically takes place in the privacy of one's home and cannot be practically enforced undermines public respect for all laws," the Poker Players' Alliance, a nonprofit interest group, said in its formal opposition to the bill.

Despite the challenges, Wright said he would continue to push for legalized online poker in California.

"The world isn't standing still while we figure out what to do," he cautioned. "The longer we wait, the more difficult it will become to get that business back to the state as different oulets of gambling become available and more entrenched."