Online Poker In California: The Fight Is On

Online Poker In California: The Fight Is On

You might well think that online gambling games are available for all to play, no matter what part of the world you happen to live in, but this is surprisingly not the case. Actually, more than 50 per cent of the world’s population is prohibited from indulging in online blackjack games or similar in their own countries (although sometimes, different nations will allow people in foreign countries to play online, which strikes us as a bit unfair).

A study released just this month (May 11th) by KeyToCasino found that 39 different countries have a blanket ban on online casino games, while 61 nations allow them to operate under license and 93 do not have an explicit ban in place but also haven’t licensed any online casinos either.

You need to be careful when playing online in various countries, as you could end up facing an administrative or a criminal penalty – just have a look at this case involving a German gambler who was fined €2,100 by the District Court in Munich and had his winnings of €63,490 confiscated after he played online blackjack on a site that wasn’t licensed in Germany.

The KeyToCasino survey further found that the countries included most often on the banned list were the US, France and Israel – US citizens are in fact prohibited from playing in some 72 per cent of online casinos around the world, so if you want to flex your poker muscles you’ll have a hard time doing so.

Based on their findings, the organisation came up with what it’s dubbed the Gambling Availability Score, based on the following factors: The percentage of online casinos that let people from the country play, the law relating to land-based casinos, the law for online casino operators, the penalties that people face, whether internet service providers block casino access and whether financial transactions relating to online gambling are blocked.

Countries can score a maximum of 1,000 points based on this criteria – and what was found was that the US was actually the worst place in the entire world for online gamblers to call home, scoring 311 points out of a possible 1,000.

Back in 2006, US Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, which stopped online players from carrying out financial transactions with internet-based casinos – although it’s important to note that the act of actually playing online poker and other games was never made illegal. You can now only indulge your internet gambling passion legally in Nevada (the first to legalise online poker), Delaware and New Jersey, but it’s entirely possible that the great state of California could soon be joining the ranks of the enlightened.

In April, a key hearing was held by the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee where those present voted unanimously to advance the California Online Poker Bill (AB 431). While this doesn’t mean that the bill will be passed, it is significant because it’s the first time that an online poker bill has been given a committee vote in the state of California.

And on May 28th, AB 431 was released by the Assembly Appropriates Committee, with informational hearings now scheduled for June and August – although there are many sceptics out there who believe it unlikely that an agreed-upon bill will come out by the end of the year. There has been some contention around the extension of online poker website licences to include race tracks in California, with some influential American Indian tribes opposed to having the tracks included.

For example, the Pechanga group – including the likes of the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation – believes that the extension would not only violate public policy related to California’s limited gambling but also affect the exclusivity that tribal governments have to run casino gambling. Many now believe that this lack of tribal agreement on the matter will mean that a California internet gambling bill will not be pushed through this year.

With the growth of mobile social gambling, it would perhaps make sense for legislation to be passed this year so that companies like Poker

Stars can get a slice of the digital pie – in order to stay competitive in an increasingly digital world, this is perhaps a business opportunity that should not be passed up if possible.

The main sticking point does seem to be the inclusion of race tracks in the bill. The industry is eager to get involved with online gambling games and poker, according to the Sacramento Bee, viewing it as an opportunity to recoup revenue, generate renewed interest in racing among different demographics and offer bigger prizes.

Robyn Black, lobbyist for the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, was quoted as saying: “We’re the only major racing state in the country that doesn’t have some other kind of gaming at our racetracks. So when you’re competing for horses to bring in to California to race … the Eastern states are more competitive with their purses.”

However, Jeff Grubbe of the Agua Caliente Band noted that horse tracks are not licensed poker operators and that, although organisations were offered a subsidy from the revenue of internet poker, this was refused.

Earlier this month, Atlantic City hosted the East Coast Gaming Congress, where legislators, payment processors and casino operators all came together to discuss the future of online gaming in the US. While it might be the horse tracks and tribes halting progress in California, those present at the conference agreed that the online gambling industry as a whole was being hindered by some banks’ refusals to manage digital betting transactions. Senior vice-president of Vantiv Gaming Solutions Joe Pappano noted that when online gambling started in New Jersey, customers struggled to make deposits because banks wouldn’t authorise the transactions, although this has now improved thanks to Visa adopting new transaction codes in April. Visa acceptance rates are now around 50 per cent, up from the 18-22 per cent a few years ago.

But – according to the Star Tribune, New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak (who sponsored the internet gambling law in his state) said the biggest problem the industry is facing with regards to legalisation of online gambling is Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands chairman, who has said he will spend as much as he needs to in order to ban online gambling in the country amid fears of children being able to access betting sites and the exploitation of more vulnerable people.

“When a billionaire says he’ll spend whatever it costs to stop internet gambling, that scares the bejeezus out of legislators,” Mr Lesniak was quoted as saying.

For California, it was looking promising but as stakeholders, tribes and legislators argue over the finer points of the bill, the chances of any outcome being agreed upon in 2015 get slimmer by the day. We here at Casino Fantasia will continue to watch the story with interest – who knows what’s going to happen?