The buzz at yesterday’s California Conference on Online Gaming hosted by Capitol Weekly was it would not be as positive as what we saw from the informational hearing last month. But how could one not feel hopeful taking a seat in a room plastered with PokerStars logos all over and the free PokerStars swag, especially considering the fear of breathing a word about Stars during the previous hearing.
Using a broad brush the panel discussions were actually optimistic about California iPoker and there were plenty of interesting points made, though repetitive at times.
Tension reigned when Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) representative Fabian Nunez spoke inaccurately about New Jersey iGaming revenue, but more on that later.
For a complete play-by-play check out @US_OnlinePoker’s tweets from yesterday. Here are the main highlights from each panel of the day.
Fiscal Impact: How Much is There and For Who?
California State Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer was the star of this panel, in my opinion. He started off by making the argument that tech savvy kids like his 11 year-old would be better protected from online gambling sites if regulation were passed – a position him and I share.
The assemblyman had some fairly vague comments regarding PokerStars being a part of the California market. This prompted Chris Grove of OnlinePokerReport.com to ask the assemblyman if he supported or opposed Stars’ presence in California.
Jones-Sawyer gave a standard “political response” dancing around the question stating he wants what’s best for the people of California – sited keeping jobs and revenues in the state.
Technology: Providers, Users, and Security
The takeaway from this panel definitely came from former Assemblyman Lloyd Levine who displayed a brilliant collection of counter-talking points to that of CSIG. Levine articulated that banning online poker is like prohibition, the war on drugs, and talking on one’s cellphone while driving – even if you ban it, people will still play.
When the panel, which included Matteo Monteverdi from GTECH, was asked if today’s technology can handle regulated iPoker in California the answer was a resounding ‘absolutely!’
On today’s technology, Levine went on to say that even the rogue entities do a good job of preventing underage users from playing online poker (but their efforts pale in comparison to US regulated sites) and gambling addiction can be monitored much easier online than in brick and mortar casinos – something some “older people” in the industry still don’t understand.
Keynote Discussion: Tribal Perspective
Tribal representation included Jeff Grubbe, Chair of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and Robert Martin, Chair of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. Sadly, Mark Macarro of the Pechanga tribe was not in attendance.
Basically this discussion came down to the fact that Morongo would challenge any bill that includes “bad actor” language because of their partnership with PokerStars and Chairman Grubbe’s supporters would challenge any bill without a bad actor clause.
@US_OnlinePoker: Cali iPoker bill all comes down to the language. “We’d have to do what we do.” -Martin on if they disagreed with language. #CCOG
The two-man panel agreed on almost everything else including iPoker is not an expansion of gaming and doesn’t cannibalize brick and mortar business. But when Chris Grove asked if there was any foreseeable compromise on the bad actor language or if it’s really that black and white, neither Chairman hinted to such a compromise.
Regulation: Jurisdiction, Sovereignty, and Equity
Moderated by Chris Grove, the panel on regulation included Terri Sue Canale from Office of Problem Gambling, Peter Larson of Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP, Chair of the Gambling Control Commission Richard Lopes, and Keith Sharp of Falk & Sharp.
With some having stronger opinions than others, this panel was pretty much all in agreement that regulation is best way to protect users – aiding problem gamblers and preventing Wille Brown’s imaginary iPoker marketing tactics toward kids – and making it easier for law enforcement.
Sharp was the most vocal on the meritless bad actor clause and wants to let the regulators do what they do best, regulate. He doesn’t see any compromise among the tribes but hopes a deal (if you can call it that) will be made by August.
Politics: Negotiating the Legislative Wrangle
I personally was most looking forward to the last panel of the day that included the only CSIG representative, Fabian Nunez. Right from the moment he sat down I could tell he felt uncomfortable, nervous, and full of bologna. Nunez was noticeably more jittery than anyone else all day.
John Latimer represented PokerStars on the panel and was sitting right next to Nunez – a bit awkward but led to an interesting dynamic. Latimer thought it’s a narrow window for California iPoker this year. So combine that uncertainty with the fact PokerStars would have to be approved by regulators even without the bad actor clause and it’s apparent that the theme of California online poker this year is “Maybe.”
Not only did Nunez pull an Andy Abboud and flashed is cellphone to the audience, he also confidently misrepresented revenue generated so far in New Jersey’s regulated market. Eric Sprague of FlopTurnRiver.com called Nunez out on his falsified numbers siting the correct info from NJ.gov.
Nunez clearly didn’t know what to say and tried to remain as respectful as possible, but he was caught in a lie he couldn’t back down from – pure politics.
It was entertaining and intense and needless to say, following the conclusion for this final panel, Fabian Nunez was the first to exit the building.