California publishes Amendments to Internet Poker Bill AB 431

The road to legalization of internet poker in California has been a long and arduous one that many still believe won’t reach an end before the current legislative session is over. Hope was reignited by the passage of AB 431 last week by the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, but along with it came undisclosed amendments to the internet poker bill.

California Internet Poker Bill AB 431 Amendments publishedOn Monday, those amendments were finally published, and while only a few slight changes were made to the context, it may not bode well for some. In particular, horse race tracks and operators like PokerStars may find themselves left out of California’s would-be internet poker market.

All of the alterations to the bill are detailed below.
You can view the Amended Context of AB 431 here.

Internet Poker Restricted to “Qualified Entities”

The most significant alteration to the text of AB 431 was the addition of a section relating operators who can participate in an internet poker market. Chapter 5.2, Article 1(c) reads:

A framework shall also include strict standards to ensure that the Internet poker games are fair, operated by qualified entities, and are played by persons of legal age who are located in California, using technologies to identify and restrict access by minors.

AB 431 was originally introduced by Assemblyman Adam Gray as a “shell bill”, and at this point, remains such, but that paragraph did not exist prior to the amendments. Unfortunately, there is no definition supplied for “qualified entities”, but it’s easy enough to assume that “unqualified” parties could include the horse racing tracks and/or operators with ‘tainted assets’, (i.e. PokerStars), that many tribes have been strongly opposed to.

CGCC and DOJ Struck from Internet Poker Regulation

The previous context of AB 431 called for the California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to “promulgate regulations for intrastate Internet poker.” However, that entire section of the bill was stricken.

Now, the only reference to regulatory oversight is found in the bill’s General Provisions, which state:

Any Internet poker framework shall contain consumer protections for Californians who seek to engage in a legal alternative to unlawful Internet poker, ensure a fair share of revenue for the state, and protect the public interest by ensuring that the various aspects of Internet poker are sanctioned and regulated by the state.


Authorization of Internet Poker becomes Declaration of Intent

Another interesting change in AB 431 was the wording of the bill’s objective.

Original Text
This bill would authorize the operation of an Internet poker Web site within the borders of the state.

Amended Text
This bill would declare the Legislature’s intent regarding the authorization of Internet poker within the borders of the state.

This change alters the internet poker bill from an act to legalize, to little more than a declaration of intent. Then again, there’s much work to be done in terms of filling in the myriad holes remaining in the shell bill.

Fortunately, having received unanimous approval from the Assembly GO Committee last week is a good sign that legislators are willing to flesh out the finer details of the internet poker bill. Several hearings are scheduled over the coming weeks that will surely work towards that goal.

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