Not Wright for Internet Gambling

Some Net gamblers are lamenting the indictment of California State Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) who was indicted by a grand jury for alleged voter fraud. Wright is seen as a proponent of online gambling in California because of the bill he introduced earlier this year which would legalize online gambling in a limited form in California. If convicted of voter fraud, the chances of his bill passing are slim to none. Perhaps online gamblers in California shouldn’t be too upset.

As I wrote in June, Wright’s plans for bringing Internet gambling to California aren’t exactly ideal…to put it mildly. Actually, what I said was that Wright’s SB 1485, while apparently legalizing some online gambling, would actually have the effect of criminalizing all forms of Internet gambling except for the three state-authorized online casinos.

Sen. Rod Wright introduced SB 1485, a bill that supposedly legalizes Internet gambling for residents. What it would actually do is legalize gambling only at the three online platforms and criminalize Internet poker played anywhere else online. Currently, there are no federal laws that make online poker games a crime and the DOJ has never prosecuted individual players associated with the activity. California makes 11 names games illegal to play online, but poker is not one of them. Thus, in CA, poker is not consider an unlawful Internet gambling activity at the moment. But if a law is passed that sanctions only three online providers, chosen by the state, as SB 1485 does, then playing poker online anywhere else will be a crime. The state’s DOJ will be allowed to arrest any individual caught playing poker online at a non-sanctioned site.

Currently, California law makes 11 named games illegal to play online or any game where the operator takes a rake (a cut of the money won in each hand). Thus, online poker in the state is legal at the moment.

While some might argue that legalizing online gambling in this less than desirable form is still a step in the right direction, but is it? If Net gambling was banned throughout the United States, including California, then perhaps it would be a step forward. But as U.S. law and California law currently exist, Internet gambling is not illegal. There are currently 11 named games illegal online in California; poker is not one of those named games, thus it is technically legal in the state.

The supposed purpose of Wright’s bill is bring online gambling out of the black market, earn tax revenue for the state, and to protect consumers. While amendments will be considered, as it is now — restricted to the max — the bill won’t accomplish any of its goals.

1. It won’t add protections for consumers:

The text of the bill itself notes that millions of Californians gamble online for money. Criminalizing all but three sites will not stop players from visiting the platforms they know and like. Those online gamblers will have no protections because they will be breaking California law.

2. It pushes online gambling into the shadows:

As mentioned above, players will continue to frequent unsanctioned gambling sites, only they’ll now be criminals. If Senator Wright and any other politician talking about Internet gambling really wants to protect players, they should let all sites be legal — allowing players recourse if they’re ripped off. If, however, the state wishes to put its seal of approval on any of the platforms, that might make some new gamblers feel more comfortable about playing at those designated sites.

Whether Wright is found guilty or not, his proposal ought to be mucked.

Such limited legalization is an all around bad bet.