A Roadblock in California

16 July 2001
A prohibition bill that's making its way through the California legislature could face a much bigger battle in being passed than originally expected.

A bevy of groups opposed to the bill voiced an opposition last week, and a spokesperson for the bill's sponsor admitted that its supporters are facing an uphill battle..

"There is so much big-money interest in this," Dan Reeves, the chief of staff for the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dario Frommer, D-Los Angeles, was quoted as saying in the Desert Sun on Friday. "You have all this support and no opposition, yet the bill will fail.You have all these people working in the shadows."

Later in the day though Reeves told IGN that his comments were grossly taken out of context, and although he and Frommer are disappointed with the recent developments the bill has taken, it is nothing out of the ordinary.

"Any form of prohibition in this country, whether it be against alcohol or gambling, it generally doesn't work historically. I would rather see their money spent perhaps developing strategies to deal with regulation or cooperation with the interactive gaming industry."
-Tom Tucker

"The bill is running its normal course," Reeves said. "It will be heard in the policy committee in about a month."

Reeves said the bill had to be tabled with the committee since there had been a number of changes in the wording of it.

"We had the bill scheduled for a hearing, but we moved it over to the committee. It had nothing to do with these other issues," he said. "It had to do with the fact that we had some amendments to take care of the banks and credit card companies. We are still holding them accountable; we have limited their criminal and civil liability."

But the leader of the state's largest problem gambling authority says the bill has taken on a life of its own with a number of amendments and exemptions.

Tom Tucker, head of the California Council on Problem Gambling, said his group normally tries to ride the fence on political issues and agendas, but his stance on this issue has become well known.

"As a non-profit group we take no position against any legal or illegal gambling per say," he said. "We are kind of neutral on those things, but they did ask me about the bill and I don't think it is enforceable."

Tucker feels it is unreasonable to expect authorities to monitor and enforce both customers to online casinos and the operators themselves.

"You would have to hire lots of cyber-cops even to detect these various organizations that have contact with California citizens and I don't know if that could be done," he said. "There may be some technology out there now that could do that. I don't think there are enough cyber-cops to do that."

Tucker said the main goal of his group is to promote the addiction aspect of gambling and the trouble individuals can get in if they aren't careful gambling. He also pointed out that banning activities has never worked in the United Sates.

"Any form of prohibition in this country, whether it be against alcohol or gambling, it generally doesn't work historically," he said. "I would rather see their money spent perhaps developing strategies to deal with regulation or cooperation with the interactive gaming industry."

Rather than banning what he sees is a growing market that could be the future of gaming as the public knows it, Tucker would like to see the legislature allow groups like his to work hand-in-hand with the industry.

"From our perspective we want the downside of gambling to be looked at," he said. "It can lead to suicide and financial problems, not in a lot of the cases, but in some.

"If the interactive gaming folks, we say, 'we have a product that is no different from casinos with walls and we would be willing to set aside a small portion of our funds to help deal with that gambling addiction as any good corporate citizen would' . . ." he continued, "as far as I am concerned that would be all that you could possibly hope for or expect from the interactive gaming industry."

Tucker would like to see such a bill proposed, and while he has gotten verbal support of the idea from legislators, he isn't counting on anything being proposed, considering the direction California has already taken.

"The ones (politicians) that I have talked to so far feel that it seems to make sense," he said. "The problem is that the bill is an outright ban of Internet gambling, and they can't say, 'but if there is Internet gambling we think there should be some funds set aside for responsible gaming strategy.' There has been talk that any fines that come out of this bill would go to responsible gaming initiatives."

As for the motivation in targeting the Internet, Tucker says it is easy to see what the true goal of the bill is.

"Their position is odd and a little unfair because it exempts everyone in the world except online gambling," he said. "Anything that the state currently gets a financial income from is exempted. It is pretty clear where the motivation is on this bill."

Problem gaming, Tucker feels, will still be an issue regardless of whether Internet gambling is banned.

"It is going to happen if it is in a traditional casino, at the racetrack, in a card room or on the Internet," he said.

Tucker thinks if gaming experts can convince lawmakers that the proper approach is in cooperation and not prohibition, then maybe progress can be made.

"If people who are in the business like we are can say, 'look you aren't going to stop it so you might as well try to understand it and cooperate with it in any way you can,' then maybe we can get a safety net for those people who can't handle it," he said.

Reeves refused to comment on the future of the bill, but did say that advocates of the bill knew they were in for a tough battle.

"It is a tough bill, but there are a lot of tough bills that get through," he said. "We just need to get the bill and print and give everyone the chance to review it and have it on file. Hopefully then by August it can be in committee and we can go from there."