Bill to legalize Internet poker in California dropped for 2014

An online poker demonstration at a gambling industry conference in Las Vegas in 2011.
(Julie Jacobson / Associated Press)

One of two bills that would legalize Internet gambling in California was shelved for the year Wednesday by Democratic state Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana, who said there was not enough time left in the legislative session to refine it for a vote.

Correa is the author of SB 1366 and is chairman of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, which screens all gambling measures. His decision is a major setback for a proposal that has been debated for five years in California’s Legislature.

The senator decided that with less than a month left in the legislative session, there was not enough time to make major changes and get consensus from Indian casino operators and card clubs to hold a vote this year.


“Internet poker is an important public policy. We need to make sure it’s done right,” Correa said.

A second pending bill that would legalize Internet poker was introduced early this year by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer Sr. (D-Los Angeles); it too has not moved through the committee process and no hearing date has been set. Jones-Sawyer has not returned calls in recent days for comment on his plans for the bill.

Whittier Law School professor I. Nelson Rose, a leading expert on gambling law, had predicted California would not legalize Internet poker this year, in part because it is an election year but also because disagreement remains among Indian tribes and other gambling interests about what a new law should look like. It would take a two-thirds vote to pass, which Rose said is currently unlikely.

The sticking points include a proposal to disqualify Internet poker companies that offered Internet poker to Californians before it was legalized. “The politics of this aren’t right for this to get rushed through by the end of this year,” Rose said Wednesday. “The state is so large and there are so many tribes and they don’t agree on anything.”

A coalition of some dozen major tribes who proposed legislation said they are willing to wait until 2015.

“Instilling public confidence in the integrity of State-sanctioned Internet poker is a fundamental principle of ours,” the tribes said in a statement. “To that end and in consultation with the bill authors, our tribal leaders have concluded that rushing a bill in the closing days of this legislative session will not allow for the level of careful public examination and confidence an issue of this magnitude requires.”


Although those tribes announced recently that they had overcome differences and agreed on a possible bill, other tribal casino operators remain opposed, and there have been other setbacks.

Momentum appeared to stall when a leading proponent of legalization, Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), was removed as the Governmental Organization Committee chairman in February after a jury found him guilty of eight felonies, including voter fraud and perjury for lying about living in his district.

In addition, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson launched a campaign earlier this year against the legalization of Internet gambling in California, paying $309,000 during the last nine months to powerhouse lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs to fight any proposal and enlisting former Assembly Speakers Fabian Nunez and Willie Brown in the crusade.

Because of term limits, Correa won’t be back next year to revise his proposal, but Rose thinks Internet poker will be legalized someday in California as it is already in Nevada and New Jersey.

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