Politics

State lawmakers want to regulate online poker

Thursday, April 05, 2012

It's estimated more than two million Californians wager $13 billion a year on online poker sites. Now some lawmakers want in on the action, proposing that the state license and regulate operators for 10 years; the first two years would be open to poker only, possibly more games later.

It could mean more than a billion dollars for the cash-strapped state budget over the next decade.

"The highway is littered with road kill of people who tried to stop technology," St. Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, said. "So you will either get in the game and play or what'll happen is you'll just get mauled over."

And no more going to Vegas, another proposal would allow sports betting at current gambling establishments like card rooms and race tracks, but California would have to ask the feds for permission because that's currently illegal except in four states.

The thought of expanding gambling in California worries opponents who say the social and economic impacts will only get worse.

"Increases in crime and all of the money it takes to deal with that, increases in unemployment, increases in homelessness, increases in welfare," James Butler with the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion said. "An increase in divorces and an increase in suicide."

But supporters say people are already playing online poker. Californians don't have any protections or recourse when, for instance, winnings aren't paid out.

A coalition of Indian tribes and card room operators are ready to stand behind the online poker bill, but only if California gaming establishments, not out-of-state interests, can be licensed and only if it's poker.

"Right now millions of Californians are playing online poker and every dollar goes off-shore," Andrew Governar with the California Online Poker Association said. "We want to make sure that money stays in California."

Most online poker sites are based in foreign countries to skirt the federal ban on Internet gambling, but the feds have suggested states can legalize it within their boundaries. The sports wagering ban would be tougher to overcome.

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