A new bill in California that would license and regulate online poker would also make it a felony for players to play on an offshore online poker site – even before regulated sites are up and running.
AB 2863, introduced last Friday by Assemblymen Adam Gray and Reggie Jones-Sawyer, establishes a framework to legalize and regulate online poker in California, considered the “Holy Grail” of markets in the US due to its population. The bill would allow for shared liquidity between licensees and permits multiple skins per license. There’s also a potential felony charge for players.
Here’s the passage that could be concerning to players:
19990.303. (a) A person shall not do any of the following:
(1) Offer any game of poker on the Internet in this state unless that person holds a valid license issued by the commission to offer the play of authorized Internet poker games on an authorized poker Web site pursuant to this chapter.
(2) Offer to any player located within California any game provided on the Internet that is not authorized by the state pursuant to this chapter.
(3) As a player located in this state, play any game provided on the Internet that is not authorized by the state pursuant to this chapter.
(b) Subject to an opportunity to cure pursuant to Section 19990.521, a violation of this chapter is a felony, punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code
According to poker activist Martin Shapiro, “The State can seize any money, real property, or personal property ‘used in, or derived from’ such illegal play.”
“The players are the easiest people to get,” Poker Players Alliance Vice President of Player Relations Rich Muny said. “Think of it this way: why would the state try to shut down a site overseas when they could drive down to someone’s house and arrest them for playing online poker?”
Muny believes the felony provision has no place in an online poker bill.
“This bill should be for the players’ benefit,” Muny said. “Regulated sites should offer services so that players won’t want to play on offshore sites. Making it a felony is outrageous. A player could make an innocent mistake or, for a variety of reasons, end up on a non-regulated site or game. The PPA is not in support of the criminalization aspect of this bill.”
According to Online Poker Report, the new bill earmarks up to $60 million in revenue derived from online poker for the horse racing industry, which has suffered in recent years. There’s also no “bad actor” clause, which means that companies like PokerStars that serviced the US market after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed in 2006 would not be shut out for doing so.
Players will also be interested in knowing that AB 2863 allows operators to network together. The bill states that any licensed operator may “enter into contractual agreements with one or more licensed operators for the purpose of ensuring adequate player liquidity.” The larger the player liquidity, the more games can run, and the more appealing the site would be to prospective and current customers.
There’s also a maximum of two skins per license. Given those provisions, there could be a sizable number of online poker sites should the bill become law.
After the bill is passed, there would be a 270-day period during which regulations would be developed. Sites could launch one year after regulations are adopted, meaning one to two years will lapse between when AB 2863 is passed and when a regulated site comes online.
Among those organizations already opining on AB 2863 is the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, which commented in a press release, “We are supportive of Assemblyman Adam Gray’s efforts to allow gaming Tribes the option to adapt to the changing technology… CNIGA looks forward to working with the Legislature to ensure meaningful legislation is passed.”
Muny indicated that the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians hold a position of power in the future of online poker in California and will play a major role in determining the fate of AB 2863. Muny explained that the tribe has a lot of clout, but that Gray and others seem to be pulling legislation together that has a chance of passing.