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Emily D. Swoboda

Internet Poker Gaining Legislative Traction in California

17 April 2008

California is likely to become the first U.S. state to test the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act's intrastate gambling exemption, as a bill to study the legalization of an online poker offering continues to gain momentum in the State Assembly.

AB 2026, introduced in February by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, a Democrat from Van Nuys, received bi-partisan approval on Wednesday from the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, which oversees all new gaming legislation in California.

Mr. Levine's bill charges the California Gambling Control Commission and the State Department of Justice to jointly perform a study on the feasibility of an intrastate online poker scheme based on exemptions built into the UIGEA. Approval from the committee means Levine can now create the framework for a law to legalize online poker in the Golden State.

At Mr. Levine's request, the Office of Legislative Counsel -- the legal advisor to the state's legislature -- examined the proposal and addressed whether, under federal and state law, the legislature could authorize the operation of Web sites offering online poker.

Last Friday, the Office of Legislative Counsel delivered its opinion on the proposal, saying that it would not violate federal or state laws.

"We were very pleased that the legal analysis was positive," Jim Tabilio, president of the Poker Voters of America, the grassroots organization sponsoring the bill, told Interactive Gaming News.

"The legislative analyst said, 'Yes, if you do it the way we're talking about here, it does not violate federal or state law. You do need a proactive decision by the legislature and the governor. You can't just implement it administratively.' That's in the UIGEA as well.

"What we've got is pretty much unanimous agreement that it's a good idea if we can make it work," Mr. Tabilio added. "Now we just have to make it work."

Mr. Levine told IGN Thursday that based on the favorable legal opinion and his other research, he may be able to bypass the study altogether and begin constructing a bill for intrastate online poker. He said if they were to pursue a study, the process would delay the legalization of intrastate online poker until 2012.

"If we decide that we don't need the study, we skip a whole lot of time in that process, because if we put in language that allows poker, we've jumped ahead two or three years in the process," he said.

"And starting January 2009 we begin the process of implementing the regulations and you're looking at late 2009 before you can actually engage in this."

The bill is now in the hands of the Committee on Appropriations, which will look at its the potential for producing revenue for the state.

"This committee will look at the potential revenue and how much it will cost to create the program and enforce the bill," said Mr. Levine.

While there will be a hearing at the Committee on Appropriations, no date has been set.

Martin Owens, a California-based gaming attorney, cautioned the bill has obstacles yet to face.

"The tough part will be the political horse-trading: who gets to control what, and how much the state will charge for the privilege," he said. "Hammering that out will have to wait until after the November election. But it's clear the tide is beginning to turn in I-gaming's favor."

Internet Poker Gaining Legislative Traction in California is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda