California hammering out details of charitable gaming law

Charities and non-profit organizations in California are eagerly waiting to trade in their bake sales and other fundraisers for highly popular and profitable charity poker tournaments. Currently it's illegal for anyone other than a licensed gaming establishment to offer poker tournaments, "Monte Carlo" or "Casino Nights" in California. Legislation working its way through the Senate could change that.

Last year California Assemblyman Alberto Torrico introduced Bill A.B. 839 to the Assembly that would amend the Gambling Control Act to allow non-profit organizations to conduct fundraising using controlled gaming.

"Non-profit organizations provide essential services to California ranging from health care to youth sports," Torrico said. "This bill will allow non-profits to host 'poker night' fundraisers under carefully limited conditions."

The bill was passed by the Assembly, but still awaits approval in the Senate. Details of the bill are still being worked out in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee where they are trying to find a compromise between the non-profit organizations and the card clubs who think they will be losing business if the bill passes, as well as casino night party organizers.

The measure would authorize controlled games, such as poker and Pai Gow, while casino games like roulette and craps would remain prohibited.

As it currently reads, organizations would have to follow strict rules for their fundraising events, including: offering just one poker night a year, only four casino nights in one place per year except in rural areas with few venues, no events longer than five hours, and $9 out of every $10 must go directly to the non-profit with only 10% profit for the operator.

To further differentiate them from real poker games, the pot at a charity event must be paid out in prizes, with no one player winning a prize worth more than $500 and the total payout for the night can't exceed $5,000 in value.

Non-profits must also be in existence for at least three years and pay $100 in licensing fees to be eligible for legal charitable gaming nights.

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer sponsored the bill, but the Attorney General's office has said it may have to crack down on non-profits who continue to sponsor poker nights and casino-themed fundraisers despite the current law if the Legislature doesn't pass the bill.

A statement on the Attorney General's site states "It is the Attorney General's view that anyone other than a licensed gaming establishment holding controlled card games would violate state law. The only exception is for games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player."

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