As lawmakers consider legalizing online games, the governor’s budget proposal calls for rolling the regulatory commission into the state Justice Department
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

BY JIM MILLER
SACRAMENTO BUREAU
jmiller@pe.com

Published: 19 February 2012 08:13 PM

SACRAMENTO — As California considers a major expansion of legalized gambling, Gov. Jerry Brown wants to revamp how the state regulates the industry and protects its millions of customers.

Brown’s January budget plan includes a proposal to consolidate parts of the California Gambling Control Commission, which is autonomous, with the state Department of Justice, which is overseen by Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Little is known about what the governor has in mind beyond a two-sentence description in last month’s budget that criticized a “bifurcated system of gambling control” and describes a goal of “consolidating support, investigatory, and compliance functions” within the Justice Department. The proposal, unlike other parts of the January package, has not been fleshed out in bill form.

“We’re not really sure what the plan is. We saw the paragraph in the budget and we’ve made inquiries,” said gambling commission Chairwoman Stephanie Shimazu. “The commission would still exist, but to what extent, we don’t know.”

Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for Harris, said the attorney general’s office has not received any details of Brown’s plan.

Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said the commission would remain a stand-alone entity. Much of its staff, however, would become part of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Gambling Control.

Gambling regulation would not suffer, he said.

“One of the reasons that the staff is being incorporated into the bureau is because the bureau has special agents who have expanded authority to engage in investigations and enforcement activities,” Westrup said.

California is one of 48 states that have at least one type of legal gambling. Gambling in card clubs and at horse tracks has been legal for generations.

In 1984, voters approved a state lottery. And in 2000, voters legalized Las Vegas-style gambling on tribal land. Legislation to legalize online gambling in California is expected to be introduced soon in the Legislature.

Casinos, card clubs and other gambling businesses have a large Capitol lobbying presence and spend heavily on campaign contributions to state lawmakers.

A jumble of different state agencies regulates the industry. Besides the gambling control commission and Department of Justice, there is the state lottery commission, the state Horse Racing Board, the Office of Problem Gambling in the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, and the governor’s office.

Shared duties

Among other duties, the Department of Justice and the gambling control commission share regulation of Las Vegas-style gambling on tribal land. The commission has 70 employees. The Bureau of Gambling Control has 160 employees inside the Department of Justice.

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