National Opinions

John Pappas: Time is right to approve, regulate internet poker

California could take a major step forward to provide millions of consumers with needed protections, and to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the state, by authorizing Internet poker.

The first-ever bills authorizing Internet poker, Senate Bill 278 (Isadore Hall III, D-Compton) and Assembly Bill 431 (Adam Gray, D-Merced), could be passed out of policy committee this month, a significant first step that has never before happened. After years of trying and failing, the passage of these bills would represent the first movement of Internet poker legislation in the state.

Poker is a great American pastime enjoyed by millions. Like most other forms of entertainment, it is now available online in government-regulated platforms for consumers around the world, including in New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada.

But not in California. Internet poker efforts have crumbled the past six years as the various interests have argued, then stalemated, about what companies and industries could compete for business in California.

That short-sighted vision has left consumers unprotected. Millions of California consumers who want to play poker can only do so on unregulated foreign sites with operators who are completely unaccountable to regulators and law enforcement, and who offer no consumer protection.

As proved in other states and countries where online poker is legal and thriving, a well-regulated online poker market can ensure protection of player funds, weed out fraud and collusion, prevent underage play and detect problem gamblers, all while ensuring that online poker operators are held to the highest standards of accountability.

A legal and licensed California online poker market could generate hundreds of millions in state revenue and many new jobs.

If we’re finally going to get over the hump, all the interested parties must come together in a joint effort to move a bill forward – tribes, card rooms, race tracks, labor unions, online poker operators and others. Fights over who should be licensed, whether certain interests and companies should be included and whether the Legislature should define “who’s in and who’s out” should not be a game-stopper.

For us players, a vibrant, competitive market requires a range of choices. The more limited the market, the less successful Internet poker will be both in terms of consumer choice and state revenues.

Thankfully, it looks as if there is more agreement this year.

I can do my banking, shopping and even buy a home online. I can visit more than 100 brick-and-mortar poker rooms or casinos throughout the state and play poker. It makes no sense that I cannot enjoy the game I love online.

It’s time legislators pass legislation to protect consumers and benefit the state.

Pappas is executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, a gambling lobbying group. He is testifying before the state Assembly today in support of AB 431, Assemblyman Adam Gray’s Internet gambling bill.