James Hinton Loses Election as California Online Poker Bill Stalls

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Poker pro turned politician James Hinton loses in his election bid; a bill to legalize online poker in California on hold until 2015.

Congressional hopeful James Hinton of Napa, California, an independent upstart and former professional online poker player, was handily defeated in Tuesday’s election. His opponent in the 5th District Mike Thompson took home 76% of the vote and will take the seat for his 9th term.

Hinton’s loss was deflating for progressives, as he ran on an iconoclastic message of major social reform. His ambitious policy platform was titled “The Next New Deal” and included such reforms as nationalizing the federal reserve, instituting a financial transactions tax and creating a $5 trillion national infrastructure fund.

While disappointing to those tired of seeing a Washington establishment all too eager to cozy up to powerful Wall Street interests, few can say that his loss was unexpected.

As an independent he financed his own meager campaign, while Thompson had $1.6 million in Democratic Party funds at his disposal. And his fire and brimstone soak-the-rich and anti-Wall Street message was doomed to appeal only to a limited audience.

Hinton’s path from poker to politics

• Former poker pro James Hinton loses Congressional bid

• A bill to legalize online poker in California will NOT be passed in 2014

• Sheldon Adelson has spent $300,000 this year lobbying against poker in the state

The upstart candidate decided to run for Congress on a whim just this year, he had no prior experience in politics, no connections to either major party and no education since graduating from Napa High in 1992.

The son of a Vietnam veteran and Mare Island worker, Hinton never had the privilege, education or work experience of most members of the political establishment. Much of what he knows he learned playing online poker professionally for several years prior to 2010.

Hinton was making a name for himself, winning big at online poker sites in America. He seemed to have finally found his true calling, then Black Friday hit. The curtain came down as the Department of Justice shut down and indicted the executives of Poker Star and Full Tilt Poker, seizing player deposits as well.

While no players were charged with crimes and deposits were eventually returned, the American internet poker market has never been the same. Hinton was forced to give up his newly lucrative career.

His experiences as a poker player taught him two valuable life lessons: that some of the most talented and intelligent people in America are the ordinary folks we interact with every day, and that government power can do serious damage when used for the wrong purposes.

The experience was the beginning of his political awakening. Over the past four years he developed a strong commitment to progressive politics, with his official campaign website reads:

These past years have been a time of great personal transformation in my own life…I have awakened to the real political and economic heritage of our Nation; and I have shared precious time talking with my fellow Californians.

While Hinton hasn’t yet indicated whether he plans to continue to pursue a political career following his shellacking at the hands of Thompson, one can’t help but wish him the best. Whether or not one agrees with his left-wing package of policy proposals, there is valor in the way this optimistic David looked Goliath in the face and fought to the very end.

California online poker bill stalled

In a loosely related bit of gambling news the California state legislature does not appear as if it will legalize online poker anytime soon. Sponsored by state Senator Lou Correa, bill SB-1366 will not be voted on this year.

Lawmakers in both parties have argued that amendments to the bill must be made before it can be considered for final passage, and that the chances of the bill being ready by the end of the calendar year are small. The state’s Native American tribes also have a say in any changes to gambling laws.

Professor I. Nelson Rose of Whittier Law School quipped that “The politics of this aren’t right for this to get rushed through by the end of this year. The state is so large and there are so many tribes and they don’t agree on anything.”

While online poker enjoys a large degree of popularity already in the state and looks likely to be passed eventually, there has been a resurgence of opposition over the past months. Former Mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown surprised many when we flipped from supporting to opposing legalization.

Many proponents and impartial observers argue that Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson is partly to blame for the lack of progress toward a legal, regulated internet poker market in California.

He has spent a total of $300,000 this year lobbying against online poker in the state, while continuing to back a bill in Washington that would revise American gambling laws to ban all forms of internet gambling nationwide.

While Rose believes that the state’s rusty political machinery needs to move significantly in order for a bill to pass, California will eventually become the fourth state in the US (after New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware) to legalize internet poker. It just won’t be this year.

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