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California Online Poker Update

Could California online poker be legalized before the clock runs out on this year’s legislative session? The answer to that question may vary considerably, depending on who you’re talking to.

The general opinion of Golden State political watchers is that California is, indeed, inching closer towards some decision in the near future.

On the more optimistic side of the discussion is Assemblyman Isadore Hall. In recent speech to tribal gaming interests, Hall said he expects some kind a bill legalizing online poker to pass before the current session wraps up business.

Indeed, there are already two different online gambling bills working their way through the California State House.

SB 1366 is, by nearly all accounts, an duplicate of SB-678, which has failed to pass during previous sessions. The bill provides a framework for online poker and includes details about licensing, as well as a bad actors’ clause.

SB-1366 includes a $10 million dollar fee for operators once they’ve been approved for a license. The competing bill, AB-2291, includes a $5 million dollar fee and no bad actor clause.

Support for the bills is split amongst California’s wide constellation of Indian tribes. Many of the bigger tribes are behind SB-1366, while more smaller bands are backing AB-2291.

One thing that everyone involved agrees on is that there are still plenty of negotiating left before anything becomes law. In a recent letter to tribal leaders, tribal chairmen said:

As most of you know, the exact language of an introduced bill rarely if ever is what makes it through the process. We fully expect the bill to evolve as our conversations continue.

If it seems like California tribal gaming interests are pulling most of the strings in the legislative process, that’s because they are. California’s Indian tribes are well organized have a lot of political muscle in the state.

Their lobbyists have been instrumental in killing previous bills that weren’t up to their standards and will certainly have a major hand in crafting whatever bill eventually passes (or doesn’t pass) into law.

Should it come to pass, California online poker could drop as much as $263 million into state coffers during its first year.