California's contentious effort to legalize and regulate online poker has been pronounced dead for this year by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

State Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, had said his SB 40 would bring the state 1,300 jobs and $1.4 billion in revenue in the next decade. A coalition of card rooms and Indian tribes backed his bill, but some gaming tribes argued a $50 million "buy-in" for online poker licenses would create an unfair advantage for certain interests. The bill was never acted upon in committee.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, wrote to stakeholders Monday that "significant, unresolved issues remain, including tribal exclusivity and waiver of sovereign immunity, the types of games that would be authorized, who would be eligible to apply for gaming site licenses and potential federal constitutional questions." With the legislative year ending Sept. 9, "(r)ushing to meet a legislative deadline on an issue of such significance for our state and our people would be unwise," he wrote.

Steinberg said he expects a better proposal will gel in time for a state Senate Governmental Organization Committee hearing in January: "There is time to get this right, and it is imperative that we do so."


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Millions of Californians already play online poker on sites operated overseas or that may be run illegally. A 2006 federal law bars gambling businesses from taking and paying out money online unless bets are made and paid within a state that has laws regulating it; no state currently does. But a pending, bipartisan House bill would end that federal ban and set up an interstate licensing program giving states authority to run online sites, and Nevada plans to develop regulations by January. Advocates said California could be left behind if it doesn't do the same, as other states cut into about $7.5 billion in annual revenues now earned by California's brick-and-mortar card rooms and tribal casinos.

Correa couldn't be reached for comment Monday afternoon.