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Tribes aim to legalize online poker in California

Rival attempts to legalize Internet poker in California are underway in the Capitol, setting the stage for a lobbying and political showdown over a market worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Two measures unveiled on Feb. 21, the deadline to introduce new bills for the year, would authorize online poker websites, letting gamblers participate from anywhere they can access the Internet. Similar efforts failed last year after heated negotiations between tribal interests and lawmakers ended without an agreement on the final form of the complex legislation.

This year, again, there are divisions.

"There are a lot of moving parts," said Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, the newly named chairman of the powerful Senate Governmental Organization Committee, which has jurisdiction over alcohol, horse racing and gambling, among other issues. "But we will work hard, and I am hopeful."

There are big dollars involved.

Legalizing Internet poker in California would generate $263 million in revenue the first year and some $384 million within a decade, according to a December 2013 report prepared by Academicon, a research and consulting firm, and PokerScout, a marketing research company that tracks gaming.

Estimates vary widely, but the Senate committee believes there are an estimated 750,000 to 1 million online poker players in California, and the number is likely to increase with legalization. These include players who are registered to participate in states that allow it, such as Nevada and New Jersey, or in unregulated or other online games across the country.

One bill, AB 2291 by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, has the support of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuila Indians and the Pechanga Band of Luise? Indians.

The other bill, Correa's SB 1366, has support from the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, which operates River Rock Casino in Alexander Valley, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which operates the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, the United Auburn Indian Community, the Rincon Band of Luise? Indians and others.

Both bills legalize Internet poker, but they differ over eligibility requirements, licensing and launching costs and security rules, among numerous other provisions.

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