California State Senator Updates Online Poker Push
California State Sen. Lou Correa sees an opening for regulated online poker in California.
That’s one conclusion you could draw from Correa’s decision to update a bill that would bring licensed Internet poker to Californians. Correa’s move comes with only a few weeks remaining until California lawmakers clock out for 2013.
The major changes by Correa to SB 678 are to make the bill more flexible and to quicken the pace of the bill becoming law by declaring it an “urgency statute.”
How an “urgency statute” works
In California, deeming a bill an urgency statute basically does two things. First, it changes the vote threshold needed for the bill to pass from a simply majority to a two-thirds majority. Second, it ensures that the bill becomes law more or less immediately, as opposed to the traditional setup whereby a passed bill usually doesn’t become law until the start of the following year.
The Governor would still need to sign the bill for it to become law, and the bill would still have to go through the regular legislative channels. The major difference is the speed of enactment.
Consensus among California stakeholders remains elusive
Regardless of the bill’s status, there remain significant questions about the ability of California’s various stakeholders in the gambling industry to reach a consensus on the contours of California’s online gambling strategy.
The state has a long history of deep disagreements between key players, including tribal casino interests – who themselves are far from homogenous on the matter – racetracks and the state’s dozens of cardrooms. Differences of opinion exist on everything from who should get licensed, to how much a license should cost to what type of games should be allowed to be offered online.
There are also said to be key points of departure on less obvious, but still significant, issues such as interstate compacting and tax rates.
Measure still likely to be pushed back until 2014
Due to those divisions, which appear unresolved in the status quo, any legislative push from regulated online gambling will definitely face a higher barrier than it did in a state like Delaware, where the gambling industry is less fragmented.
But California’s situation is further constricted by a tight legislative calendar that sees lawmakers end the year on September 13th. The leaves only a few weeks for the newly-amended bill to clear various hearings and get to the floor for a vote, a timeline that many see as simply too tight.
Perhaps most critical among them: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who told The Press-Enterprise that he saw online poker being taken up “maybe in 2014.”
While politicians obviously have a history of backtracking on public statements, Steinberg’s lack of obvious support for Correa’s bill obviously represents something of an additional hurdle given Steinberg’s power in the Senate.
Could a federal bill preempt California?
But 2014 could be too late, especially if recent rumors concerning federal action on Internet gambling prove to be accurate. The story goes that Senator Harry Reid and major Las Vegas casino interests are working to limit California’s ability to enter the online gambling market by crafting a federal solution that puts Nevada and New Jersey at the head of an interstate online poker network while banning all other types of online gambling.
That would mean California could participate in online poker within the federal scheme, but would be precluded from pursuing poker – or any game – on its own.
It’s worth noting that the talk of a new federal bill has died down since the rumors flew in early August, but that doesn’t mean the issue is a dead one. California online gambling is viewed as a threat by many outside of the state, and any potential strategy to dampen or eliminate the ability of California’s gambling industry to pursue online gambling is almost certainly being considered.
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