Soapbox

Another View: Legislature needs to protect online poker players

Poker celebrity Jason Somerville, center, reacts while playing at Stones Gambling Hall last August as part of a campaign supporting legislation to authorize and regulate online poker in California.
Poker celebrity Jason Somerville, center, reacts while playing at Stones Gambling Hall last August as part of a campaign supporting legislation to authorize and regulate online poker in California. Sacramento Bee file

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial opposing a bill to legalize online poker in California (“Legislators, casino interests smell money,” April 29) demonstrates a lack of understanding and dangerously ignores the one issue the state’s poker players want and deserve the most – basic consumer protections.

Online poker in California already exists – unlicensed, unregulated and untaxed. Assembly Bill 2863 will protect California players. If the Legislature fails to regulate Internet poker this year, consumers will pay the price.

Nine years of debate and delay has cost the state hundreds of millions in tax dollars. More important, Californians have been left to fend for themselves while the unregulated and illegal black market for Internet poker grows.

Anyone who watched last week’s committee hearing saw how easy it is to find an online poker site, deposit money and start playing. Dozens of illegal sites are waiting to take our money – without regulation, without age verification and without any provisions for problem gamblers.

This void in consumer protection is real for Californians who played on Lock Poker, an Internet site based in Curacao that abruptly shut down in April 2015, taking millions in player deposits. Affected customers could do nothing to get their money back and hold the rogue operator accountable.

This is exactly why California consumers support AB 2863.

It corrals the unregulated marketplace and turns it into a system that is both safe for consumers and accountable to state regulators. The bill would replace illegal operators with licensed California-based companies that have been thoroughly vetted and approved by state agencies.

It is particularly mind-numbing that The Bee’s editorial board has supported regulating daily fantasy sports, a form of online betting, yet vociferously opposes the same protections for consumers who want to play Internet poker. That makes no sense whatsoever, and it’s particularly troubling since the standards and consumer safeguards in AB 2863 are far more robust.

There is no public policy justification for the status quo. I hope California lawmakers put consumers first and continue to support AB 2863.

John Pappas is executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, a national advocacy group with 90,000 members in California. He can be contacted at john@theppa.org.

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