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California online poker bill showdown tomorrow

Finally, some forward movement in California’s almost-forgotten effort to create its own regulated online poker network.

Tomorrow, July 12, both of the Golden State’s pending poker bills will be heard by the Senate Government Organization Committee. The chairman of that committee, Sen. Rod Wright, is author of one of the bills (SB 45). Fellow Democrat Sen. Lou Correa is the sponsor of the other (SB 40).

Correa’s bill sets no limit on the number of regulations for online poker companies— potentially a big benefit for companies like Playtech, currently already building their California poker network.

Wright’s SB 45 actually sets “no limits on operators, sites or the gambling games,” notes the Coachella Valley Business Blog. Voting is not expected, but “Wright has said he would move only one bill forward.”

“At a time when our state is talking about new taxes to shore up our budget, we cannot afford to let Congress take one dollar of California’s revenue out of state to benefit Nevada and New Jersey,’’ Senator Correa said.

The Capitol Weekly notes that Correa’s SB 40 has been heavily amended in recent weeks.

Those changes include “a harsh new punishment for ‘operating or playing on an unauthorized website.’” That’s certainly in line with the language of Joe Barton’s U.S. online poker bill, which seeks to actually strengthen the UIGEA via harsher penalties against non-licensed operators.

In the new California bill, violators would be hit with a $10,000 fine, as well as “seizure and forfeiture of all personal and real property used in or derived from the operation of or play on an unauthorized website.”

“This raises the possibility that the authorities could come take your home computer if you’re caught playing on an illegal site,” the article adds.

Another big change: The bill now includes a federal opt-out provision. That means California would not include itself in a new online gambling network on the federal level. Joe Barton’s federal U.S. online gambling bill specifically allows states to opt-out, and it’s likely (though not certain) that any bill that passed on the federal level would do the same.

The tribes support Correa’s bill over Wright’s, even after these changes.

California Online Poker Association (COPA), the organization currently building an online poker network with Playtech, is still enthusiastic.

“The entire set of amendments reflects a greater chance for California to earn more income,” said COPA spokesman Ryan Hightower.

“I think within the next 75 days we’re going to see some movement on the bill, and it’s still in a very good position to pass this year,” he added.