Illegal, unregulated online poker websites don’t have controls to keep out underage players. They don’t always pay players what they are owed, and if they’re on the lookout for problem gamblers, it’s only so they can exploit them.
This is the current reality of online poker in California. Ironically, even though online poker is not authorized in this state, it’s easily accessible.
It’s been estimated that more than a million Californians have played on unregulated offshore poker websites. While, many lawmakers understand the need to crack down on an unregulated online operators and provide consumers with necessary protections the debate has been ongoing for nine years – yes, nine years!
All the while, Californians are left to fend for themselves as the black market for online poker grows.
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But now there is hope for consumers. We are very close to finally passing comprehensive legislation to authorize and regulate online poker in California. AB 2683, the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act sponsored by Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, creates an online poker market in California and, at long last, players will be protected. A growing number of interests including consumer groups, labor unions, horse tracks, cardrooms and gaming tribes (both big and small) are united behind the bill.
Last month, I sat in front of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee and gave a live, first-hand demonstration of how easy it is to find an illegal site, sign up with a credit card and start playing. The Committee passed AB 2863 by 19-0 vote. Now the Assembly Appropriations Committee will act on the bill this week, possibly by Wednesday.
AB 2863 authorizes the California Gambling Control Commission and the state Department of Justice to license and regulate iPoker operators and licensees, to thoroughly vet them for suitability and to ensure their adherence to rigid suitability standards. More importantly, it provides consumers with protections that are missing in the current unregulated environment.
For example, the AB 2863:
▪ Ensures the integrity of consumer accounts, security of consumer personal data, and accountability of the games to prevent fraud and cheating;
▪ Limits play to people 21 and older who are located in California;
▪ Backs up this policy up with sophisticated age verification methods to prevent underage poker players online;
▪ Helps fund state programs for problem gamblers;
▪ Will deliver millions in revenues to the state.
What are iPoker obstructionist offering? More years of keeping our heads stuck in the sand, more losses for players, and more years of leaving regulation up to complacent foreign governments.
Last year, the rogue website Lock Poker closed down taking millions of dollars owed to players with it. So-called regulators on the Caribbean island of Curacao, where Lock Poker was based, did nothing.
Surely even the obstructionists would agree that California regulators would do a better job. It’s time to do the right thing for California consumers and pass AB 2863.
John Pappas is executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, a national advocacy group with 90,000 members in California.