SB-51 Proposed as Urgency Statute to Legalize California Online Poker

In the last two years, California’s drive to regulate online poker has been a virtual roller coaster of multi-million dollar lobbying efforts, bill propositions, amendments and subsequent rejections. It seems that no matter how hard proponents try, California simply isn’t destined to attain the legal framework for intrastate online poker. Amidst the mounting rubble, Senator Rod Wright has once more breathed new life into the notion with the proposal of SB-51, yet another bill to legalize, regulate and tax online poker in California.

SB-51 – or by its garrulous name, “The Internet Gambling Consumer Protection and Public-Private Partnership Act of 2013” – is a reintroduction of former bills that repetitively failed to make it into law. Those collapses were mostly due to their leaving too many issues unresolved. Sen. Wright not only attempts to settle any and all feasible issues in the literature of SB-51, but also introduced the bill as an “urgency statute”.

Any bill with an “urgency statute” label requires a 2/3 majority vote, but if approved, is enacted immediately into law. Advocates believe that this will work heavily in favor of the bill due to California’s current state of severe budget crisis. According to Wright’s estimates, the licensing fees and taxation will generate $200 million in the first year, with another $100 million to follow annually.

There weren’t too many significant amendments to SB-51. The most prominent were the exclusion of all other gambling amusements. Online poker would be the only online gambling activity legalized in the state. Licensees would be required to put up an application fee of $1-$5 million, plus a $30 million fee to cover future taxation upon reception of a license. Operators would be taxed 10% of all gross revenue, which comes from tournament fees and cash game rakes. Players would also be taxed, thanks to the software tracking all client activity and requiring SSN#s upon registration. Net tournament winnings of $600 or more would be taxed at 5%.

The new bill would require licensed online poker operators to abide by a series of distinct regulations. Support must be supplied 24/7/365. Responsible gambling programs must be promoted. Self-exclusion forms must be available. Players must have the option to set limits on daily play and losses, and must view an hourly pop-up message revealing the amount of time they have been playing and their win/loss ratio.

One intriguing facet of the bill refutes the possibility of any licensee ever entering into a business contract with any online poker operator that supplied real-money online poker games to US residents after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. In laymen’s terms, don’t expect to see PokerStars, Full Tilt, Absolute Poker, UB, or any other operator that disregarding the US legislation to ever appear as a California-based online poker room.

Proponents had originally hoped to see the bill under review as early as January 19th, 2013, shortly after legislatures reconvened in the new year. However, since no hearing date has yet been set to observe the definitions of the SB-51 online poker bill, it is now projected to take three more months at least before the committee can evaluate and eventually vote on the proposition.