Editorials

Adam Gray’s internet poker bill is a losing hand

A game of Texas Hold ’em is dealt at the Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights. A bill by Assemblyman Adam Gray would legalize poker on the internet in California.
A game of Texas Hold ’em is dealt at the Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights. A bill by Assemblyman Adam Gray would legalize poker on the internet in California. ehiller@sacbee.com

Assemblyman Adam Gray needs to know when to fold them. For years, the Merced Democrat has been working on legislation that would legalize internet poker in California. Last week, he unveiled a series of amendments to his bill, AB 2863.

Gray and his supporters argue that internet gambling is a reality, and that the state should regulate and tax it. However, proponents fail to show that it would produce significant revenue for the state, or that it would benefit anyone but the businesses that control the sites.

The latest iteration of Gray’s bill would lower the tax rate 10 percent. Earlier versions set it as high as 15 percent. That would be sweet for companies that would run poker sites, but not taxpayers.

As it is, horse racing is the one gambling business in California for which internet wagering is legal. To pacify track owners who would lose their monopoly, they would be entitled to the first $57 million generated by internet poker. That’s nice for a segment of the gambling industry, but again, not taxpayers.

Another amendment would ace out businesses that ran poker sites after 2006 when the federal government banned them. Tribes and card rooms that had partnerships with established internet gambling operations are feeling double-crossed, while tribes that had no such relationships became supporters. Yet again, that may hold meaning for gambling interests. The rest of us? Not so much.

Gray says there would be safeguards. But California has not shown itself to be particularly adept at regulating existing card rooms; the feds have had to step in to stop money laundering at such establishments.

Attorney General Kamala Harris has been absent from discussions of the bill. She, or her successor, if she is elected to the U.S. Senate, needs to engage on the question of what would be an expansion of gambling.

With the advent of Indian-owned casinos, anyone who feels a need to place a bet can drive a short distance to a casino. But legalizing internet poker – and no doubt other forms in the future – would allow anyone with a smartphone and a credit card to place bets and burn through their money at any time. That may be good for the gambling industry, but it’s hard to see California’s benefit.

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