SACRAMENTO — Almost four months after it was introduced, legislation to license online gambling in California will finally get its first airing.
Influential members of the state’s politically active gaming industry signed on in support or opposition to the bill leading up to Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee. The panel’s chairman, state Sen. Rod Wright, is the author of the measure, SB 1463.
Millions of California residents play online poker through illegal offshore sites. Supporters of SB 1463 say that licensing and taxing the games would bring in $200 million for the state’s stressed general fund.
Opponents of the bill include critics of expanded gambling, tribes that contend the bill would violate revenue-sharing agreements with the state, and groups that support legalized online gaming but object to SB 1463’s approach.
The largest of those groups, a coalition of gaming tribes and card rooms called the California Online Poker Association, released a poll Monday, June 11, showing that 76 percent of voters strongly support the concept. The Morongo Band of Mission Indians near Banning and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians near San Bernardino are the group’s largest members.
The group’s survey also concluded that voters want the state’s online gaming market to be poker-only and limited to operators already licensed to offer gambling in the state — findings that mirror the online poker association’s complaints about SB 1463, which does not include such language.
Senate leaders convened weeks of closed-door talks to try to fashion an agreement on a bill. Deep divisions remain, however. Several horse tracks, the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, and the United Auburn Indian Community, which operates one of the most successful casinos in the country, are among the bill’s supporters.
Opponents of the measure include the online poker association, the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in the Coachella Valley, and the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians near Temecula.
The poker association’s poll found that that 56 percent of voters want to limit the legal games to poker. Only 33 percent of respondents said they support “betting on social games that you play on your computer or Smartphone, such as Farmville or Angry Birds, which currently do not permit gambling for real money.”
“Voters don’t want California to become the Wild West of gaming,” pollster Ben Tulchin said. “Voters are OK with permitting it. But there have to be restrictions.”