SacBee Op-Ed Attacks Regulated Online Poker in California

California PokerAn Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee claims that AB 2863 is not about player protection and only benefits tribal casinos, cardrooms and the horseracing industry.

The Sacramento Bee is the most widely read publication in the capital of California and the paper with the fifth largest distribution throughout the State as a whole. Consequently, when the paper comments on a certain issue, its opinions usually tend to carry some weight – potentially influencing public opinion on the issue.

Last Thursday, the “Editorial Board” of the SacBee published an Op-Ed promoting the concept that “Legislators [and] casino interests smell money with online gambling bill”. The key messages within the Op-Ed were that:

  • Assemblyman Adam Gray´s “Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act” offers little in consumer protection.
  • The horseracing industry will skim $60 million from revenues intended to enhance player protection.
  • The bill is opposed by a Californian Senator who has expressed her opinions in a letter to the General Assembly.

Right Messages – Bad Presentation

Strictly speaking, the messages being promoted by the SacBee are correct. There is little player protection in AB 2863, the horseracing industry will receive a $60 million subsidy from funds originally intended to support the under-resourced California Gambling Control Commission, and the bill is opposed by a Californian Senator. Unfortunately, the arguments used to communicate the messages are incorrect, poorly constructed and incredulous.

With regard to consumer protection, the Op-Ed claims that legislators are acting in the best interests of consumers by making high-stakes poker accessible to anyone with a Smartphone (a scenario that already exists in California- albeit unregulated). Unfortunately the “Editorial Board” completely miss the point about the intent of the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act – which, although promising consumer protection, fails to deliver any protection for player funds at all.

In the Act, other than a clause to stipulate that players´ funds should be maintained separately from operating funds, there are no provisions for the protection of players´ funds. There is nothing in the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act that gives players recourse in the event that their bankrolls are stolen or in the case that a site goes bankrupt.

John Pappas – Executive Director of the Poker Players Association (PPA) – has supported the regulation of online poker in California by citing the demise of Lock Poker as an example of why regulation is necessary. Ironically, the current proposals for player protection in California would not prevent another Lock Poker scenario. A site could steal all its players´ funds and disappear into the sunset laughing at Pappas and California´s regulators.

Horseracing Subsidy leaves Regulators Little to Work With

The $60 million subsidy for the horseracing industry is attacked by the SacBee for supporting a well-connected industry that includes wealthy horse owners, as opposed to being allocated to assist problems gamblers, those who lose their homes because of gambling debts, or victims of domestic violence where the violence is attributable to the stress of gambling addiction.

The paper acknowledges that, without the subsidy, the horseracing industry will have killed Adam Gray´s bill – which, it is claimed, is solely for the benefit of American Indian tribes and big card rooms. However, whereas a case could have been constructed to develop the lack of player protection argument, the Op-Ed completely misses the opportunity – instead taking a cheap shot at the members of the Assembly Government Oversight Committee who [geolink href=””]passed the bill last week[/geolink].

What the SacBee should have focused on was the lack of resources currently available for the California Gambling Control Commission and the California Bureau of Gambling Control to effectively regulate online poker in California. These two bodies are already backed up with applications for brick-and-mortar gambling licenses and, at last year´s committee informational hearing about online poker in California, five separate witnesses testified that the two departments were under-funded, under-resourced and under-staffed.

Even if the tax revenues from online poker in California raise sufficient funds to cover the promised subsidy to the horseracing industry, there is going to be little left over to give the California Gambling Control Commission and the California Bureau of Gambling Control the support they need. Without this support, the risk exists that there will be inadequate regulation of online poker in California – assuming the bill ever passes the Assembly and the question of bad actors is resolved – something else that has been dropped into the laps of under-resourced regulators.

If you are Going to Quote a Senator, Quote a Credible One

In the Op-Ed, the SacBee gives prominence to a letter sent by Senator Dianne Feinstein to the Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. In the letter, the Senator states her opposition to AB 2863 and warns of the potential widespread harmful implications of online gambling – quoting several out-of-date and disputed sources to support her concerns.

Unfortunately – for the credibility of the SacBee´s Op-Ed – Senator Feinstein was a co-sponsor of Sheldon Adelson´s failed “Restoration of Americas Wire Act” (RAWA), a bill that intended to ban Internet gambling throughout the country to protect Adelson´s brick-and-mortar casino empire. Feinstein, ironically appointed Vice Chairman on the Senate´s Select Committee on Intelligence, displayed an alarming lack of intelligence about online gambling in her letter – one that was described by the SacBee as injecting clarity into the discussion.

The absurdity of quoting a pro-RAWA Senator to inject clarity was not lost on supporters of regulated online poker in California. Orchestrated by the PPA, a dozen or so supporters added their voices to the comments section of the online article – one of which suggested that the Op-Ed was more fitting of the Sheldon Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review Journal.

Commenters also exposed several other inaccuracies in the Op-Ed, and the hypocrisy of the paper for supporting regulated Daily Fantasy Sports, but opposing regulation for online poker. To quote one commentator´s opinion of the SacBee for publishing such incorrect, poorly constructed and incredulous content – Shame on you.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett