When California State Senator Roderick Wright attempted to legalize online poker with SB 1463, he sold it as a way to help patch up California's busted budget , which is indeed in dire trouble. Surprisingly, the strongest resistance came not from the ever-more-irrelevant anti-gambling moralists, but from powerful pro-gaming special interests clinging to lucrative state-granted privilege.
"There's no way that we can do something that might be the death knell for our industry," says David Quintana, lobbyist for the California Tribal Business Alliance, which opposes any form of online poker legalization on the grounds that it could negatively affect the economic activity of California's Indian tribes.
Reason.tv talked with Quintana as well as with poker player, entrepreneur, and pro-poker lobbyist Steve Miller about the complicated politics of online poker, which is regulated on a federal level by the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (or UIGEA), a vague piece of last-minute legislation that prohibits financial institutions from accepting transactions related to "unlawful internet gambling." The problem is that the legislation fails to define "unlawful internet gambling."
Predictably, this legal limbo has led U.S. financial institutions to steer clear of online gambling and led to the rise of off-shore gaming sites, which Miller says can be unreliable and untrustworthy.
"Online poker play will continue," says Miller. "It's available from sources who are unlicensed, who may not be reputable, who may not be offering a fair game."
Legalization of online gaming in California would likely force legislators to take another look at the flaws inherent in UIGEA. But despite the fiscal and practical sense that legalization makes for the California, and the seeming inevitability of legal online poker play, the anti-online gaming special interests have won out in the short term, with Sen. Wright killing the bill before it even made it to the floor for a vote.
"You have to fight it as long as you can," says Quintana. "Why speed up the inevitability, right? Put it off as long as you can."
About 5 minutes.
Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Tracy Oppenheimer and Weissmueller.
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