Steve Ruddock California Internet poker hearings

On April 22, the California Assembly Governmental Organization Committee will hold a hearing on Chairman Adam Gray’s online poker bill, AB 431 – which is currently a shell bill with companion legislation introduced in the State Senate by Senate GO Committee Chair Isadore Hall III, SB 278.

This is the first of four online poker hearings the Assembly GO Committee has scheduled in the coming months, including two joint sessions with the State Senate Governmental Organization Committee that will take place on May 20 and June 24, respectively.

Online poker won’t be sole focus of this week’s hearing

Online poker, specifically Chairman Gray’s bill AB 431, is just one of many topics that will be covered during the April 22 hearing. This hearing will likely only touch upon the issue.

On July 8 the Assembly GO Committee will also host a hearing on iPoker, but this time it will deal exclusively with online poker, specifically the other two online poker bills that have been introduced, Mike Gatto’s AB 9 and Reggie Jones-Sawyer’s AB 167.

Joint hearings to center around online gambling

Sandwiched in between the April 22 and July 8 Assembly hearings are two joint committee hearings. These hearings will likely determine how far an online poker bill will get this year.

The first joint hearing between the Assembly and Senate GO Committees will take place on May 20. The hearing, titled, Overview of Gambling in California–Legality, Authorization and Regulation, will deal exclusively with online gambling.

The second joint hearing between the two committee is also online poker exclusive, titled, The Legality of Internet Poker–How Prepared is California to Regulate It? This hearing is scheduled for June 24.

The long and winding road

Previous hearings in California have left us with more questions than answers. This was certainly true at last year’s bombshell hearing in April, when halfway through the proceedings PokerStars, the Morongo Tribe, and three California card rooms officially announced their partnership.

That being said, the joint hearings will mark the first time committees from both legislative bodies have met together to discuss online poker, and it’s also the first time the chairs of both the Senate and Assembly GO Committees have introduced companion online poker legislation.

Senate GO Chair Isadore Hall III and Assembly GO Chair Adam Gray have introduced the same legislation in their respective chambers (AB 431 and SB 278). The bills are currently “shell” bills, acting more as a placeholder until California’s diverse gaming interests can agree on a number of key issues and specific language can be added.

This compromise will hopefully be accomplished during the upcoming hearings.

These hearings are an important step in the process of passing a bill, but there is still a long road ahead before an online poker bill is approved in California. Even the lawmakers pushing for online poker expansion have grown cynical of the process and the chances of a bill passing this year.

For instance, assemblyman Mike Gatto, who introduced the first online poker bill this session (AB 9), was initially hopeful a bill would pass. But his optimism has waned since he first declared an online poker bill would have a 50/50 chance of passing in 2015.

At the iGaming Legislative Symposium (iGLS) in February, Gatto said 50/50 in 2015 is now 35%  in 2016 in his mind.

Overarching problems plague the process

The reason for Gatto’s pessimism is twofold:

  1. The state’s gaming interests are still split on several key issues.
  2. Most lawmakers have an apathetic view of the issue.

These two issues go hand in hand.

Problem number one may never be solved, but there is certainly the capacity for compromise, if the gaming interests receive enough pushback from lawmakers.

The problem is, problem number two allows problem number one to derail any online poker legislation, as lawmakers are content to let gaming interests hash this issue out on their own since no one is holding them accountable.

Lawmakers are not crafting the bill based on what their constituents want, they are crafting a bill based on what gaming wants. This is a stance they are able to adopt thanks to the lack of people speaking out on this issue at a grassroots level.

In an interview, Gatto said that his office has received 60,000 emails and only four or five have been about online poker. Because of this lack of public backing, Gatto called online poker a “fringe” issue, and not one lawmakers are keen on getting involved.

But that could change if Californians make their voices heard and start contacting their elected representatives telling them they want online poker legalized and regulated. After all, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and nowhere is grease needed more than in legislatures.

It’s time to hold these lawmakers accountable.

#AllInCA

To counteract this seeming disinterest California Online Poker has launched a grassroots advocacy campaign called #AllInCA.

The campaign is pretty simple. Anyone signing up for #AllInCA will have their name added to a roster based on their legislative district. California Online Poker will then send each lawmaker the list of their constituents who are in favor of online poker legislation.

You can also find the contact information for your elected representatives at the #AllInCA website and let your voice be heard a second time, in a more individualized way.

To learn more about the #AllInCA campaign and add your name to a growing list of Californians who are tired of the gridlock on this issue in Sacramento, visit the AllInCA homepage.

Steve Ruddock
Steve Ruddock - Steve is one of the most recognizable names in the online poker media space. He brings his deep knowledge and equally deep well of opinions to his coverage at CaliforniaOnlinePoker.com.