Huge Change to California Online Poker Bill

Not long ago, the California online poker bill known as AB 431 passed through the state’s Governmental Organization Committee for the first time in history. This was no doubt a historic occasion that shows how serious the Golden State is about online poker. However, the main catch is that this is only a shell bill designed to be a placeholder for the ultimate legislation that may or may not pass. That said, it took some amendments for AB 431 to pass through the committee, including one change that could have a giant impact on the market. Let’s take a look at this change along with what else is new with the bill.

Only “Qualified Entities” allowed

The two biggest hangups to passing online poker legislation in Calfiornia have been if PokerStars and race tracks will be allowed in the market. PokerStars, along with their coalition that includes two tribes and the state’s three biggest card rooms, have been fighting hard for a bill that lets them join the party. However, several other tribes aren’t so keen on the idea and want both Stars and race tracks excluded. So it’s quite strange to see new language in AB 431 that claims only “qualified entities” can run online gaming operations. Does this mean that the state will be given the option to exclude anyone they want – including PokerStars?

No More CGCC or DoJ

When AB 431 was first introduced, it made way for the creation of the California Gambling Control Commission and California DoJ, which would work to “promulgate regulations for intrastate internet poker.” Both potential governing bodies are now missing from the bill, with the state taking over the “sanctioning and regulating” duties instead.

Only the “Intent” to legalize Online Poker

One more potentially huge change from the previous AB 431 version is the alteration from this bill’s abilty to “authorize the operation of an Internet poker Web site within the borders of the state,” to now, “declare the legislature’s intent regarding the authorization of Internet poker within the borders of the state.” This simple language change may have a big impact if AB 431 does indeed pass because, by only declaring the “intent” to authorize online poker, the legislation’s passage doesn’t automatically clear the way for legal iPoker.

Still More Changes and Discussions to come

It’s clear that the most-recent changes to this bill were made to get AB 431 through the committee before its May 1st deadline; if it hadn’t passed, then hopes for legal California online poker would have faded this year. But AB 431 is far from a finished product, and there are still three more hearings to be held on the matter, with the last one being on July 8th.

The key points, as always, will be whether or not PokerStars and race tracks are included in the market. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians were the previous opponents to AB 431, but they approved when the recent changes were made. However, all sides are likely to still disagree on the big points of contention and there’ll be plenty of debates in the coming months over the bill.

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