Online Gambling Issues Lucrative for Politicians

LA Times looks into lobbying donations

An intriguing article appeared this week in the LA Times regarding political action committee and lobbying donations which attempt to influence and support the legalisation of online poker in California.

One legalization proposal seems to be standing out: SB 1463, introduced by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and Sen. Rod Wright, which seeks to allow nearly 150 card clubs, Indian casinos and horse-racing tracks that operate in California to apply for 10-year licenses to run gambling websites open only to state residents.

The bill envisages that the businesses would each have to put up a $30-million advance for any online poker website, and that after two years, the state could legalize other games for online wagering. It has been claimed by Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, that the proposal could raise at least $200 million for the state in the budget year starting from July.

According to the LA Times, the last year saw land casino operators bring $1.36 million into the Democratic State Central Committee of California, which Steinberg will rely on during his initiative that aims at increasing his party's control of the Legislature in this year's elections.

It has been reported by the newspaper that "In the two years since Wright first proposed legalization, the six largest operators in the online poker association have spent $7.7 million on political contributions, gifts to officials and lobbying in Sacramento.

"The group includes Hollywood Park Casino, in Wright's district. Fifteen Indian tribes that own casinos, including the Morongo and San Manuel bands of Mission Indians, are also members."

“Sen. Wright, who is chairman of the Senate committee that oversees gambling, has received 85 contributions totaling $170,000 from gambling interests since he ran for election in 2008.

"In addition, four casinos that founded the online poker association have anted up $11,500 for a legal defense fund for Wright in his ongoing battle against criminal charges of voter fraud and perjury. Los Angeles County prosecutors allege that Wright registered and voted using the address of an Inglewood property he owned but actually lived outside the district that elected him."

It appears that the newspaper discovered Wright and other members of his committee received declared $5,000 in gifts from gambling interests last year, including lodging at the Barona Luxury Casino Hotel in San Diego, tickets to a Tower of Power concert at the Chukchansi Casino near Yosemite, rounds of golf at the Rolling Hills Casino in Tehama County and VIP entry to the Del Mar horse-racing track.

Another politician to benefit from land casino interests is California Governor Jerry Brown, who has not yet taken a position on the Steinberg-Wright bill. Also, the bill has not received the support from the 33-tribe California Nations Indian Gaming Assn., who are insisting that the bill be limited to online poker. What’s more, there’s another tribal grouping that is lobbying to kill the legislation, as it believes it would violate their exclusive rights and take customers away from their land casinos.

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