California iGaming Week in Review: GiGse Excites, More Voices Ensure Fights

Written By Jennifer Newell on July 21, 2014
With the yearly deadline looming, the online poker talks have intensified in CA and other excitement has ensued

Any debate on any topic should welcome all pertinent voices into the fold. Generally speaking, more points of view will lead to a fuller discussion of the topic and a well-rounded solution.

Such is the case for California online poker.

The GiGse Totally Gaming conference was held this week in San Francisco and highlighted many voices in the online poker debate. Some, like Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, expressed a very pro-online gaming stance, while Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown spewed so many contradictory points of view that he likely confused even himself.

Meanwhile, a California tribe tried to go rogue and launch its own real-money online poker site, the California gaming regulator finally chimed in to the broader online gaming debate, and a group of card rooms expressed their views regarding online poker.

For a state that has yet to regulate online poker, California was quite busy with the subject matter this week.

Can Someone Paraphrase Willie Brown?

Most people who spoke at GiGse this week in San Francisco had fairly firm ideas of where they stood on the Internet gaming issue. Mr. Willie Brown, on the other hand, seemed to confuse himself the more he spoke.

Brown did admit that he has switched sides on the Internet gaming issue a number of times during his 15 years as California State Assembly Speaker, but he has settled on the Sheldon Adelson side of the issue since his retirement.

However, he seemed to lack basic knowledge of the industry, stating that online gamblers’ identities can’t be reliably verified and children can’t be kept off the gambling sites because they have the skills of computer hackers. He went on to assert that people in land-based casinos would lose their jobs and criminals could launder money through the Internet gambling sphere.

And then, Brown added that Internet gaming should be regulated by the federal government.

Ed Rendell took the other side of the argument at the conference, discussing tax revenues that will help address addiction problems and actually help land-based casinos in states like Pennsylvania. He asserted that gambling creates jobs and states must legalize online gambling to secure those jobs. “Gambling exists,” he said. “Pennsylvania should have its share.”

Santa Ysabel Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Bill

The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in California is not the largest tribal nation in the state, but it sure made a splash in the news this week. They launched, an online poker room that was prepared to offer real-money games for California residents.

The tribe asserted that tribal sovereignty gave it the authorization to operate as noted in the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and more specifically as referenced in the compact between Indian tribes and the state of California passed in 2003.

Under the oversight of the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission, the site was deemed legal. Going even further, the tribe noted that other forms of online gambling were in the works as well.

The press release announcing the site noted that Santa Ysabel Interactive partnered with the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, the famed regulator that delayed and (some say) botched the investigation into the Ultimate Bet scandal years ago. Santa Ysabel, however, regarded the KGC as the “gold standard of interactive gaming regulation” that has shown “uncompromising integrity in I-gaming hosting.”

The site used the same software as the Winning Poker Network and offered play-money games immediately after the notice. Most players within the state said that real-money games never materialized throughout the week.

What is the plan? Only the tribe knows, apparently.

Head of GCC Speaks

Richard Schuetz is the Commissioner of the California Gambling Control Commission, the regulatory body that remained silent as the above-mentioned tribe promised to launch online poker in the state in the absence of any state bill authorizing such a move.

But he did write an editorial piece for GiGse about the general state of online poker in the United States.

Among his points was the notion that regulating online poker by state will create complications for which there will be no easy fix. With that in mind, he pleaded with those pushing for regulation in the gaming industry to work with regulatory organizations and legislators to push for harmonized platforms so that states may eventually work together without too many inconsistencies to get in the way.

Schuetz then disappeared behind the curtain in a puff of smoke.

Card Rooms Want More Say in Online Poker Debate

The only card rooms that have been at the forefront of the online poker debate in California thus far are the ones partnered with PokerStars and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. Those facilities were Commerce Casino, the Bicycle Club, and Hawaiian Gardens Casino.

Another 25 of the card rooms decided they wanted a voice in the game as well.

A total of 25 of them, including Hustler Casino and Hollywood Park, sent a letter for State Senator Lou Correa, one of the sponsors of pending online poker legislation in California.They noted that they wanted to participate in online poker, should it be legalized, but feared being left out because of the size of their rooms and the partnerships already being formed.

The coalition of rooms also stated that they supported a bad actor clause in any legislation, which put them in line with the majority of the vocal Indian tribes in the state in wanting to keep Rational Group companies out of the game.

In essence, the card rooms want to be included in the discussions and play a role in developing final online poker legislation for California “to protect our existing poker business, jobs, and tax base.” The letter went further to say, “Legislation that pretends to include card rooms but handicaps or otherwise restricts their effective participation is not good policy.”

With little more than a month before the August 31 deadline for an online poker bill to move forward in the state before being tabled until 2015, more voices in the debate makes it less likely that anything will materialize in 2014.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been writing about poker for nearly a decade, including extensive work as a freelancer, where Jennifer has worked for numerous gaming-related websites, magazines, and blogs with a focus on players, news, and interesting stories. Follow Jennifer on Google+ and Twitter.

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