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Online Poker Bill AB 431 Successfully Advances Out Of Committee

After months of bitter fighting over the specifics of online poker legislation between card clubs, horseracing tracks and Native American casino operators, Assemblyman Adam Gray managed to successfully advance his iPoker bill, AB 431, out of committee.

The legislation was discussed during the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee (GO) and was voted on and passed along just days before the cutoff date for bills to stay live this year. AB 431 consists of only vague language and is meant to serve as a shell bill which will hold iGaming language agreed upon by the state’s gambling interests in the future.

While the move does not mean that online poker has been legalized in the Golden State, it does symbolize the fact that legislators are actively working on the issue. If the bill had failed to pass through the GO, it would have been a very bad sign for iPoker this year.

Before being introduced in committee, the powerful Pechanga and Agua Caliente tribes had gone on record in opposition of the bill. But after a few amendments were made, the two bands shifted their stance to “neutral.”

“We look forward to a meaningful process and arriving at comprehensive legislation that respects California’s longstanding public policy of limited gaming, protects children and the vulnerable, creates jobs, provides additional revenues for the State, and protects consumers and the integrity of the gaming industry from organizations that do not and have not respected U.S. law,” said Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro said in a statement.

Old issues still remain

With the successful committee vote, AB 431 becomes the first online poker bill to have ever passed out of committee. But while the bill remains live, two major sticking points loom large in the background. The Pechanga band adamantly opposes allowing horseracing tracks to open their own online poker rooms. They believe that doing so would constitute a breach of their exclusive compact with the state of California to provide gaming for residents.

The second issue involves bad actor language which could preclude iGaming giant PokerStars from becoming licensed. Tribes in opposition, however, recently signaled the fact that they might be open to a compromise. On the topic of racing, the Pechanga band remains unmoved.

From here, AB 431 will be presented in a hearing titled “Overview of Gambling in California – Legality, Authorization and Regulation.” The bill will not be voted on during that time, but will be discussed as part of the proceedings.