Online Poker law project suffers setback in California

California’s proposed intrastate online poker legislation has suffered a setback after the bill stalled amid opposition and its author, senator Rod Wright, saying he will “never get a consensus”.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians and card clubs, including the Commerce Casino and the Hollywood Park Casino, argued that Senate Bill 1485 would allow offshore poker sites and Las Vegas casinos to run web gambling in California. The protests, including rival tribes’ persistent opposition to any online poker, persuaded Wright to cancel the vote.

“This bill still needs a great deal of work,” said Wright during a meeting of the Senate Governmental Organisation Committee, where the bill was scheduled. “For every issue, there were people who liked it and people who hated it.”

The news was a blow for the intrastate lobby group Poker Voters of America, which had been supporting the intrastate drive in California and Florida, and had expected the legislation to come out of the hearing with the required six votes.

“It was basically kicked back to the card rooms and tribes to work out their differences and come back in a couple of weeks,” executive director Melanie Brenner told “Not what I wanted but we are still very much alive and moving forward. The next few weeks will be critical but I am still optimistic we can pass legislation this year.”

Wright remains hopeful that opposition can be allayed, although he does not expect the bill to make it out of the Senate this year. “The world isn’t standing still while we figure out what to do,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more difficult it will become to get that business back to the state as different outlets of gambling become available and more entrenched.”

Morongo spokesman Patrick Dorinson had said the bill could not be supported because of the fear of offshore companies bidding for three available five-year contracts: “It would take money out of the state.” The Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations said the bill would endanger jobs in local communities where tribes are the largest employers. The Poker Players Alliance also criticised a provision in the bill that would make it a misdemeanor to visit unauthorised gambling websites.

California has huge online revenue potential. According to the bill’s analysis, legalising poker could generate as much as $2.1bn per year. Poker Voters of America claims it could be worth up to $6.1bn by 2020.

Lloyd Levine, a former state lawmaker who drafted the first intrastate bill while a California Assemblyman in 2008, and now a consultant for Poker Voters, put the blame firmly at the feet of the Morongo. “It seems to me that Morongo’s opposition is not on principle but on the fact that they don’t get to own the whole thing,” Levine told the Sacramento Bee.