A bill introduced last year by state Sen. Robert G. Beverly to overhaul California's 99-year-old gaming law appears to be dead in Sacramento. But the issue could be revived if card club owners and law enforcement authorities can reach an agreement on whether to allow jackpot poker.
The bill, drafted last year by city managers in Bell, Bell Gardens, Huntington Park, Gardena and Commerce, would repeal the present gaming law and clarify what games would be allowed in the state's casinos.
Beverly, a Manhattan Beach Republican, withdrew his bill from consideration by the Senate Governmental Organization Committee when an agreement could not be reached on whether jackpot poker should be allowed.
The bill would outlaw jackpot poker, a provision endorsed by the California Peace Officers Assn. and opposed by the California Card Room Owners Assn.
Under present jackpot poker rules, players compete for two pots--a regular pot that is won on each deal and a bonus pot that accumulates over days or weeks. The jackpot grows--often to as much as $70,000 at the larger clubs--until it is won by a player with a specific hand that varies depending on the game being played.
If an agreement can be reached, it is possible that the measure still could be considered during this session, according to Joshua Pane, a spokesman for Beverly.
"The bill did not get a hearing because there just wasn't agreement, so why move forward?" Pane asked. Beverly agreed to sponsor the bill, Pane said, because he had been assured that card club owners and law enforcement officials could reach a compromise.
Bell Gardens City Manager Claude Booker still hopes that a consensus can be reached. "We are not giving up on it," said Booker, who spearheaded efforts by the city managers to revise the current law.
The law, which dates from 1891, includes regulations on such outdated games as hokey pokey and fan-tan. The new legislation would deal with more current games, such as pai gow, a popular form of Asian poker, and jackpot poker, both of which would be outlawed.
Although both games are being played in Los Angeles area clubs, their legality has been the subject of recent court battles. The new law would allow two other forms of Asian poker, Super Pan 9 and double-handed poker, and would also allow 7-card stud and draw poker.
In the complex issue of jackpot poker, a Superior Court judge issued a temporary injunction last year that allowed the game to be played in Los Angeles County pending a trial. That suit was brought by the Eldorado Club and the Normandie Casino in Gardena, the Bell Gardens Bicycle Club and the California Commerce Casino. No date has been set for the trial.
But jackpot poker has been halted in more than 300 card rooms elsewhere in the state, Department of Justice officials said.
Jerry Clemons, chairman of the Peace Officers Assn. gambling committee, said the legality of jackpot poker is the last remaining "sticking point" in discussions that have been going on for years between law enforcement officials and card room owners about which games should be legal.
Last year, after the association's gambling committee asked for an opinion on whether jackpot poker violated state gaming laws, the state attorney general's office issued an opinion calling the game an illegal lottery.
Clemons, who also is director of the division of law enforcement with the state attorney general's office, said club owners and police have worked "for months on end to define clearly what games could be played and how they could be played to get clarity in the law for the industry and for law enforcement."
But Clemons expressed doubt that an agreement can be reached about jackpot poker. "I don't see any way it can be resolved." he said. "It appears whatever clarity we're going to get (will be) from the courts and not the legislation."
Clemons said law enforcement officials remain opposed to jackpot poker because some players have complained to police that when they win the jackpot, they do not receive the entire amount in the pot.
"We know in some cases money is skimmed off and not given to the players," Clemons said. "The players say they don't get the whole jackpot."
Ron Sarakbi, president of the Card Room Owners Assn., said the group has proposed that the licensing agencies that monitor club revenues also monitor jackpots.
Sarakbi said his group will be meeting today to discuss a compromise proposal that would revise the jackpot poker rules.
The game is often played as low-ball jackpot poker, in which the second-lowest hand possible wins the jackpot if another player has the lowest hand possible, which is ace, two, three, four and five. The second-lowest hand must be ace, two, three, four and six. While the second-lowest hand would win the jackpot, the lowest hand would take the pot for that particular game. The attorney general's opinion said the game is illegal because the aspect of chance dominates over skill.
Under revised rules being proposed by card club owners, the best hand would win the jackpot, Sarakbi said, and therefore skill would be the decisive factor in who wins.
"We would like to definitely reach an agreement and get this legislation," said Sarakbi, who is also general manager of the California Commerce Club. "This would clear up the whole industry and get a definite understanding between the Police Officers Assn. and the club owners so each side would know exactly where they stand."