It seems lately that legislation and regulation concerning poker is never far from everybody’s mind, as it becomes an increasingly hot topic and the subject of much debate. While it looks at this stage like recent efforts to achieve regulation on a federal level in the United States has not been successful, that could well change in the not-too-distant future, and in the mean time the topic is certainly not put to rest. California has made clear over the past several days that it is going to attempt to beat the federal government to it, so to speak, and implement state-wide legislation that would see online poker legal within California.
The most-talked about news of late is of course the bill which US Senator Harry Reid had been trying to push through, which would see online poker made legal and regulated throughout the United States. While that sounds like an entirely positive thing, there was a lot controversy surrounding the proposal, as a condition attached was a 15 month so-called “blackout period” during which there would be no online poker whatsoever operating inside the United States, a move which many feel was designed to even the playing field between current operators and potential new sites. While it is not yet certain either way, as the days pass it is looking less and less likely that this federal legislation will pass, but California seems unwilling to wait any longer.
California State Senator Louis Correa is the driving force behind this proposed piece of legislation, which would legalize online poker so long as the services were being provided by state-sanctioned bodies, among them Native American tribes. The state would of course receive a percentage of the profits, and those companies not licensed by California would not be permitted to operate, which is a major selling point to groups who would have authorization, and both the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians are, unsurprisingly, very supportive of the bill.
It is estimated that around two million California residents play poker on the internet each year, despite online poker being neither legislated nor regulated in the state. Correa explains, “What we’re trying to do is take a whole exploding industry that is illegal and make it legal and tax it to fund state services.” While there are strong arguments that online poker is, in fact, legal due to its status as a game of skill, there can be no question that the tax revenue from state-sanctioned online poker would be significant. “People play offshore now and all that money goes offshore,” Correa pointed out, and indeed an estimated $300 million has been wagered over the last year by Californians at online poker sites.
It is positive that there is a lot of weight behind seeing online poker legalized and regulated, and hopefully if this bill comes to pass it will be beneficial to players and state alike. There is, of course, a serious risk that such legislation could be drafted without a proper understanding of the industry, and that in a frenzy to increase taxation revenue lawmakers overlook how proposed laws will affect the online poker world. With increasing amounts of legislation being put into effect all around the world, hopefully California will be able to learn from the successes and mistakes of others. We can at least be sure that there will be groups such as the Poker Players Alliance who will campaign for a system which supports and upholds the rights of the poker players over the proposed revenue gathering schemes of lawmakers, be they at a state or federal level.