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The State

Web Gambling Bill Dies in Legislature

June 26, 2002|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — For the third year in a row, a bill to ban Internet gambling in California has died in the state Legislature--this time amid behind-the-scenes lobbying from Indian gambling interests that are considering entering the lucrative online business.

The measure by Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Los Feliz) died without a vote Tuesday in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, the panel that deals with tobacco, alcohol and gambling bills. No legislator would second a motion to consider it, ending its prospects under the parliamentary rules that govern legislative debates.

Native American tribes, which were granted the right to offer slot machines and expand gambling operations by California voters in 1998, did not testify at the hearing. But some lobbied vigorously to defeat Assembly Bill 1229 because they are interested in offering Internet gambling, legislators said.

"My reaction is really one of disbelief," Frommer said afterward. "Two years ago, that same committee passed a very similar bill by [Assembly Speaker] Herb Wesson. The only difference is that we now have a powerful Indian group in opposition."

Congress has debated and defeated a number of measures to prohibit Internet gambling in recent years, in part over concerns that such legislation would be difficult to enforce. Most Internet gambling sites are run from islands in the Caribbean and other offshore destinations that make them difficult for American authorities to regulate.

Nonetheless, Frommer argues that with a state Internet gambling ban, California prosecutors could prevent businesses from targeting the state's residents, and place pressure on credit card companies that aid gambling.

"There is no way to know whether when you roll the dice" through the computer on an Internet gambling site, "you have a fair chance," Frommer said. "Every indication is that these sites are very addictive. We have no control over it. We've seen people lose hundreds of thousands of dollars."

A number of law enforcement organizations and anti-gambling groups supported Frommer's legislation, which was originally tabled in the Senate last year. Frommer also enjoyed support from the state's horseracing interests, which are permitted to offer online gambling services under legislation Wesson carried last year.

But, according to Frommer and other members of the committee, the bill was opposed by Indian gaming groups.

Nevada passed a law last year that allows Las Vegas casinos to operate Internet sites in states where online gambling is legal, and some Indian casinos feel a need to follow suit for competitive reasons.

Representatives of the California Nations Indian Gaming Assn., the main group opposing the measure, did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

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