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New bill would legalize Internet poker

June 1, 2010 |  1:02 pm
State Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood) has introduced legislation to make California the first state to legalize Internet poker, proposing that firms bid for the right to operate three state-sanctioned games.     

Wright’s bill would require the firms to share at least 20% of their gross revenue with the state, potentially bringing tens of millions of dollars into state coffers.

However, SB 1485 is expected to face opposition from several Indian tribes that operate casinos in California and who have argued in recent months that Internet poker would be a violation of exclusive gambling pacts they have with the state.

Wright estimates that more than 1.5-million Californians wager on 600 overseas gambling websites, which are not subject to regulation by any government in the United States.

"As such, neither federal nor California laws provide any consumer protections for California players," Wright’s bill says. "California players assume all risks, any negative social or financial impacts are borne by the citizens of California, and the revenues generated from online poker are being realized by offshore operators and not providing any benefits to the citizens of California."

Under Wright’s Internet Gambling Consumer Protection and Public-Private Partnership Act of 2010, the state Department of Justice would request competing firms to submit proposals for five-year contracts to run intrastate Internet games available only to Californians.

The idea of legalizing Internet poker was broached more than a year ago with Wright, who chairs the senate Governmental Organization Committee, by a consortium that included the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the Commerce Casino.

Wright was elected in 2008 with major help from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians Native American Rights Fund, which spent $50,000 on independent expenditures, including television ads, to support Wright and defeat opposing candidate Mervyn Dymally in the election for the 25th Senate District seat.

 The measure said it was needed "to protect the millions of Californians who gamble online, allow state law enforcement to ensure consumer protection, and to keep the revenues generated from Internet poker in California."

Wright estimates a licensing fee could bring the state up to $9 million, and the revenue sharing agreement could yield the state as much as $1 billion.

"People are already playing," he said, "and we currently get nothing.''

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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