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California Online Poker Update: Inside the Noxious Jones-Sawyer AB 2291 Measure Part 2

California Online Poker Update Inside the Noxious Jones Sawyer AB 2291 Measure Part 2

This is part 2 of the article from Haley Hintze regarding online poker in California and how the tribes are protection their brick and mortar casinos.

It’s Not Regulation, It’s an Online-Gambling Ban… with Criminal Penalties

California residents shouldn’t be fooled that Rep. Jones-Sawyer’s AB 2291 is anything other than a statewide ban on all forms of internet gaming, with a very narrow (and expensive to implement) exemption for online poker.  This is not good news, and it’s far too high of a price for any reasonable poker player to want to endure, for reasons explained further below.

Under the guise of calling itself a “consumer protection” regulatory bill, AB 2291 wipes all other forms of potential gambling away.  In addition to the specific ban on slots-style devices, the bans are also specific in including all house-banked casino games, “poker”-named games that aren’t really poker, like Pai Gow Poker or Three Card Poker.  Other potential forms of online gambling are to be dealt with via the zealous connection designed between “gaming device” and “element of chance.”

As of now, only four forms of real poker are even allowed under the bill – Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Stud and Lowball (which would likely include razz). 

But the real gargantuan lie being told within Jones-Sawyer’s AB 2291, is this: It’s claiming to be protecting online-poker players – whose current play on any site is fully legal – by making it a crime to participate on any site other than those tribal casinos and indie card rooms authorized by the state.  The federal clarification issued by US Attorney General in late 2011 made it clear that playing online poker wasn’t a crime under US law, but the CA tribes want to make it one – except on their sites.

Here’s the relevant passage from AB 2291, in particular provisions (b), (c) and (d):


(a) A person shall not offer any game of poker on the Internet in this state, other than a game operated pursuant to federal law that is confined to Indian lands with all players physically present on the Indian lands within this state, unless that person holds a valid license issued by the state to offer the play of authorized Internet poker games on an intrastate Internet poker Web site pursuant to this chapter. A federally recognized California Indian tribe that operates a gaming facility that accepts bets from players within this state but who are not physically present on Indian lands when making the bet shall not be eligible to operate an Internet poker Web site pursuant to this chapter.

(b) It is unlawful for any person to offer or play any gambling game provided on the Internet that is not authorized by the state pursuant to this chapter.

(c) It is unlawful for any person to use a device other than an Internet access device to play any authorized Internet poker game.

(d) A violation of this chapter is punishable as a misdemeanor.

One could argue that, “Hey, it’s better than Washington State,” where similar tribal-casino interests succeeded in getting a law passed making online-poker playing a felony on the same punishment scale as child molestation, but that’s hardly a valid approach.  Creating a criminal category where one not only previously didn’t exist, but was clarified as legal activity under federal law, can in no way be called consumer protection.

And from there, this bill’s lies get worse.

It’s Called a “Consumer Protection” Bill, But It’s Really a Tribal-Gaming Protection Measure

Shouldn’t a bill that calls itself the “Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2014” include at least one specific consumer-protection provision?  Here’s a hint: When it comes to consumer protection clauses in AB 2291, there aren’t any.

Instead, the bill serves up several paragraphs of good ol’ political pandering, mixing the scare-tactic theme of “evils of unregulated Internet gambling” with a proclamation that only the California tribes and indie card rooms can be trusted to look out for consumers.  This is some fine stuff:


The Legislature hereby finds and declares all of the following:

(a) Since the development of the Internet, Web sites offering gambling have raised consumer protection and enforcement concerns for federal and state governments as these Web sites are often operated by unknown persons located in many different countries, subject to little or no oversight, and have sought to attract customers from the United States.

(b) Californians participate in illegal online gambling on unregulated Internet Web sites every week. Neither federal nor California laws provide any consumer protections for California players. California players assume all risks, any negative social or financial impacts are borne by the citizens of California, and the revenues generated from online gambling are being realized by offshore operators and do not provide any benefits to the citizens of California.

(c) The presence, operation, and expansion of offshore, unlicensed, and unregulated Internet gambling Web sites available to Californians endanger Californians because the current Internet gambling Web sites operate illegally and without regulation as demonstrated by criminal prosecutions of some Internet gambling purveyors, and questions often arise about the honesty and the fairness of the games played on these Internet gambling Web sites as well as the true purpose for, and use of, proceeds generated by these unregulated Internet gambling Web sites. …

(e) Tribally owned and operated casinos have contributed to local economies, generated tens of thousands of jobs for Californians, and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues for the state since the advent of Indian gaming, and are entitled to the full protection of the laws of this state. As such, the state is presently engaged in regulatory and enforcement efforts to combat the rise of illegal gambling activity that threatens not only protected rights, but the health and welfare of all Californians.

Read that two or three times, and you’ll see how all the pieces are tied together with this bill’s real intent.  As a whole, all that text ventures into hip-wader territory, if not deeper, and it hides the other nasty truth about this supposed “consumer protection” bill: By demanding an extension of tribal sovereignty into the virtual business sphere, this bill actually detracts from consumer protections, rather than creating them.

Californian Native American Tribe

Native Americans from California

Proposed Virtual Sovereignty is a Business Shield Against Consumers, Not For Them

American and Canadian land-based casinos operate under the shield of tribal sovereignty and self-government, and that’s the way it’s been for decades.  The tribes have negotiated gambling compacts with states and provinces, with some degree of federal oversight, such as the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

And by and large, it’s been a good thing.  Tribal nations have enjoyed the revenue that their gambling operations bring, while non-tribal consumers have been presented with a partial selection of gambling opportunities often not present otherwise near their homes.

But the tacit understanding behind all the casinos and gambling compacts is that the activity takes place on tribal lands, and that has brought about a significant (but under-reported) measure of consumer difficulties. 

Bad things occasionally happen in casinos, just as they do in other business and life interactions; there’s no better or worse involved.  Yet for consumers who experience problems at a tribal casino, reaching a satisfactory conclusion is often impossible, with tribal sovereignty often wielded as a legal bludgeon against consumer claims.  There are numerous horror stories scattered across the Internet of these encounters, wherein consumers have been legally bum-rushed to protect the casinos’ business interests.

That means that visiting a tribal casino, for a consumer, has always been simply a case of caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware.”  As long as one understands that beforehand, it’s all fine; I myself have player cards at something like two dozen tribal casinos scattered across the US, and I patronize them willingly and happily.  (Well, except for the bad beats at the poker tables; then I’m briefly not as happy.)

Now comes this new beast, this online gaming.  Are the California tribes willing to do a limited relinquishment of their claimed sovereignty in exchange for the legally regulated ability to extend their gambling products off tribal lands, and directly into consumers’ homes?

Don’t you believe it.  The only exemptions made regarding tribal sovereignty in AB 2291 deal with existing tribe-state agreements and certain federal regulations of limited applicability.  Here’s one such example:

19990.02(r) The authorization of intrastate Internet poker pursuant to this chapter does not violate any tribal-state compact or the California Constitution. Application of UIGEA in California, as set forth in this chapter, also does not violate federal Indian law by impinging upon protected tribal sovereignty. Accordingly, nothing in this chapter shall alter, diminish, or impact the rights and obligations of tribes in existing tribal-state compacts approved pursuant to IGRA, or require that those compacts be renegotiated. At the same time, a tribal licensee does not relinquish any rights under its compact with the state by virtue of participating in intrastate Internet poker pursuant to this chapter, which is intended to respect the regulatory obligations and responsibilities of state, tribal, and federal authorities.

For the consumer, nothing, no protections at all.  There isn’t even an avenue in AB 2291 for the addressing of consumer complaints; only the state of California itself would be able to lodge any sort of action.

What that means is that if consumers suspect collusion or other forms of online cheating, and the site doesn’t even bother to investigate it, there wouldn’t be any secondary recourse.  It’s made to order for whitewashing, especially in the area of misrepresented site promotions and other special benefits offered to players.

Even that would be okay, if it wasn’t for the fact that the passage of a bill such as this – with its claimed pretense of being about consumer protections – is very likely to lead inexperienced online poker players to believe they’d have the full protection of the law.  It probably won’t please Joe Schmoe from Fresno to discover that the “regulated” poker game he’s playing from his living room is subject to tribal sovereignty more than to his personal and business legal rights, and if he thinks he’s been cheated, he might be SOL.

Really, it’s just another scenario for more of that caveat emptor online-poker playing.

What California Online Poker Players Should Do

Do some of that political-activism stuff.  Once California’s online poker players understand how lousy this bill is, they should be dead-set against it.  There are few more potent political letters written to legislators than those that reverse the expected political position for a given constituent, and then declare why.

California’s online poker players should contact their state-level legislators, and they should write something like, “I love poker, and I’d love to play online on a state-regulated site.  But this AB 2291 is a blatant piece of protectionism with no real benefits for players, and I’d like you to be against it.”

Enough letters and e-mails like that, and maybe all the people who have things to gain from regulated California online poker can come to the table together, and negotiate a future that offers something for everyone.  One thing’s for sure: Reggie Jones-Sawyer’s AB 2291 isn’t it.

News by Haley Hintze
Haley Hintze - Freelance Contributor

Veteran poker writer and editor Haley Hintze offers a uniquely independent and entertaining look at many of the most newsworthy topics in poker.  Noted for her lengthy series that helped expose the cheaters behind the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet scandals, she remains a champion of consumer interests and fair play.

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