California, the wealthiest and most populous state in the United States and the great hope of Internet gambling advocates, is again staring down a massive budget deficit—$16 billion by Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest estimate—but odds are it won’t be enough to get a contentious internet poker bill through the Legislature this year.
As of this writing (18 May 2012), with less than two weeks to go, according to statute, for bills to pass their house of origin, an Internet poker bill introduced in the Senate back in February by Los Angeles County Democrat Roderick Wright hadn’t been reported out of the senator’s own Governmental Oversight Committee.
Foreign operators could qualify for licenses or they could not. Pointedly, the bill excludes from consideration any company or entity that took bets from California residents after the 2006 passage of the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. It is less clear on the qualifications of entities that have faced prosecution for actual or alleged violations of federal or state laws pertaining to Internet gambling.
But the problems are legion. In every state where it’s been proposed, with the exception of Nevada, online gambling continues to prove a tough sell. This is true even in New Jersey, home to Atlantic City’s ailing $3 billion casino industry, where a recent poll shows a majority of voters oppose it, and Republican Gov. Chris Christie, originally a supporter, is believed now to see it as a threat to his national political ambitions.
This is no less true in California, whose great wealth and myriad conflicting economic and political interests, place those difficulties in a class by themselves. The thorniest are those surrounding the state’s complicated relationship with its Indian casino industry, the largest in the country, valued in the neighborhood of $10 billion in annual revenues.
By the bill’s definition, tribes applying for licensing would have to waive their political sovereignty under federal law and subject themselves to the jurisdiction of state gaming authorities for the purposes of licensing and taxation, something the tribes have never been willing to do.
It’s almost inevitable as well that should SB1463 pass the courts will be called upon to decide whether it also violates the tribes’ exclusive right to provide machine gambling, which is guaranteed them under their compact with the state. Among the questions this raises is whether a home computer or a bank of computers located in a card club or racetrack constitute “gaming devices” under the terms of the compact.
This isn’t likely to fly, though. In fact, it’s already being challenged by some tribes.
Wright, meanwhile, is battling voter fraud and perjury charges in Los Angeles County in connection with allegations that he falsely registered a home address when he ran for re-election in 2008.
Finally, there is the issue of time, with legislative business now devoured by deal-making and arm-twisting over the budget and the Senate and Assembly heading toward summer recess on July 6. They return August 6 and have until the end of August to pass legislation. The current session ends September 1. September 30 is the last day for Brown to sign bills to become law in the current session.
Not surprisingly, Brown has yet to make known his position on SB1463.