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California poker bill unanimously passed by Assembly Committee

A bill to legalise online poker in California has been praised by the state’s tribal governments, card clubs and online operators after being unanimously passed by an Assembly Committee Wednesday.

Assembly Bill 2863introduced by Adam Gray and Reggie Jones-Sawyer in February this year, was unanimously passed by the Governmental Organisation Committee with 18 votes in favour and none against. It now moves to a full Assembly vote, the furthest an online poker bill has progressed in the California legislature.

The legislation would allow federally recognised California Indian tribes and card clubs that have been operating for five years or more to apply for seven-year operating licences. Licensees would have to pay an annual regulatory fee as well as a one-time licensee deposit, though the exact sum and tax rate are yet to be set.

Operators would be allowed to run two skins under one licence with play restricted to those over the age of 21, while liquidity pooling would also be permitted.

At present the bill does not include a so-called “bad actor clause” to block operators who were active in the market following the passage of UIGEA from applying for a licence. This is expected to change however.

The vote was held Wednesday following a Committee hearing in which members heard testimony from a number of sources, including John Pappas, executive director of lobbying group the Poker Players Alliance (PPA).

Pappas said there was sufficient justification for regulating online poker as there was no public policy justification not to do so. He warned that California residents are playing poker on unregulated foreign sites and that AB2863 would protect these vulnerable players.

He also highlighted the fact that the Assembly passed a bill to regulate daily fantasy sports (DFS) based on this same need to protect consumers.

“It begs the question: If fantasy sports players in California deserve consumer protection, why aren’t online poker enthusiasts being treated equally?,” Pappas said. “I will add that while the DFS bill does provide regulatory oversight of that industry, AB 2863 is far more robust in the way it sets industry standards and safeguards consumers who wish to play poker online. If you voted to support the DFS bill, then support for the online poker bill should be a no-brainer.”

The passage of the bill has attracted praise from PokerStars’ coalition of California partners, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and California’s three largest card clubs the Commerce Club, the Hawaiian Gardens Casino and the Bicycle Casino.

“After eight years of analysis and discussion, today’s milestone vote marks the strongest step forward by California to create a regulated iPoker market that establishes vital consumer protections,” Morongo Tribal Chairman Robert Martin said. “It’s clear that Chairman Gray’s bill presents a new and promising approach, and we’re hopeful that we will see an iPoker bill signed this year.”

“The growing momentum behind this iPoker bill is very encouraging and is the fruit of Chairman Gray’s inclusive approach with all stakeholders,” San Manuel chair Lynn Valbuena said. “The broad coalition of tribal governments, card clubs, and online operators is hopeful that the strong support we saw today will end the delay in establishing a well regulated environment of vital consumer protections.”

“For too long, California has left online poker players without basic consumer protections,” Keith Sharp, General Counsel to Hawaiian Gardens Casino and iPoker Counsel to Commerce Casino and Bicycle Casino, added.

“Passing this bill can bring much-needed oversight and competition to the growing online market. Today we have seen what gaming tribes, online providers and California’s card rooms can do when we work together.”

The bill now passes to the full Assembly for discussion. Should it be approved by two thirds of members it will progress to the California Senate.

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