Prohibition Lurks Again in California

28 February 2000
If U.S. states continue pushing for online gambling prohibition as they have been, a federal bill may no longer be necessary. The latest state to join the club is California, where a Net betting bill surfaced last week. If passed as it's written now, the bill will enable the long arm of the long state to go after operators, advertisers and casual bettors.

Introduced February 23 by Rep. Herb J. Wesson, Jr., California Assembly Bill 2179, if passed, would make it a misdemeanor to operate an online gambling site based in California or to make online gambling available to persons in California. The penalty for doing so is imprisonment in a county jail (not to exceed 90 days), a fine (not to exceed $1,000 per transaction) or both. Nowhere, however, does the bill define what constitutes a transaction.

Those who "facilitate" the offering of online gambling to persons in California would also be violating the law. That means all advertisements for online gambling websites that don't include language specifying that such activity is illegal in California would be prohibited.

Casual bettors, meanwhile, would be guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine not to exceed $100 per transaction.

Additionally, the bill extends to the Internet a California policy that makes debts incurred while gambling unenforceable.

Internet service providers, Web pages and search engines, or other indexes, networks, or network equipment are exempt as long as they don't promote or advertise online gambling in California.

AB 2179 is not the first online gambling prohibition bill to be introduced in California. You may recall Senate Bill 777, sponsored by Senator Tim Leslie, surfaced and died in 1997.

AB 2179 is at least the third online gambling prohibition bill introduced in 2000. Similar bills were introduced this year in South Dakota and Tennessee.

Wesson's bill is tentatively scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee March 25. (Oddly enough, that's a Saturday.) Wesson chairs the committee, which hears all gambling-related legislation introduced to the California House.

According to Rep. Wesson, enforcement will lie largely in the hands of the attorney general, who will be given the authority to bring criminal actions, file civil actions, issue cease and desist letters and "take other actions as necessary to maximize compliance with these provisions by both online gambling enterprises and individual citizens of this state."

The bill will likely have to undergo significant changes to survive. A spokesperson from Wesson's office acknowledged that enforceability was a concern and that Wesson expects to get feedback from the Attorney General, who may help refine the bill.

The spokesperson also mentioned that the bill was brought about by the highly publicized credit card debt lawsuits recently in the California courts.

  • Click here to view the press release issued by Wesson's office.

  • Click here to view AB 2179 as introduced to the California House of Representatives.

Mark Balestra

Mark Balestra is the Managing Director at BolaVerde Media Group. He previously worked at Clarion Gaming and the River City Group where he was the publisher of iGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.