Does UAIC’s Shift Signal The Tribal Stalemate On California Online Poker Can Be Broken?

March 1, 2016
Does UAIC’s Shift Signal The Tribal Stalemate On California Online Poker Can Be Broken?

Online poker regulation will likely go nowhere in California as long as all of the tribes are not on the same page.

That’s why the addition of the United Auburn Indian Community to a coalition of tribes backing new online poker legislation in the state is noteworthy: It’s at least a promising sign that the lack of progress for online poker in the state could be reversed in 2016.

In the background, however, remains a serious division between groups of tribes that have partnered with PokerStars, and those that want to keep the world’s largest online poker operator out of the state.

The newest online poker supporter in CA


The UAIC joins the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in the so-called “PokerStars coalition,” as first reported at Online Poker ReportThose tribes plan to work with Amaya and PokerStars should a regulated online gaming environment become a reality.

The addition of the UAIC is notable because the tribe was once a part of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians’ coalition opposing PokerStars’ entry into the California market. The UAIC actually left that coalition and was supportive of iPoker legalization efforts last year.

While the addition of the UAIC is perhaps not a sea change, it is, at least, the latest example that there is some momentum for online poker regulation, and tribes are capable of revisiting past positions to move forward.

That being said, there are still six tribes, led by Pechanga, who want to see “bad-actor” language in online poker legislation, which would effectively keep PokerStars out of California.

The new legislation — AB 2863 — does not include “bad-actor” language; at last check, Pechanga’s position remains “entrenched” on such a provision being included.

Given the fact that all tribes would, in reality, like to see online poker happen in California, will Pechanga remain steadfast in that resolve?

What the PokerStars coalition said

The coalition of three tribes and several cardrooms in the state was nearly unequivocal in its support of AB 2863:

The bill, authored by Assemblyman Adam Gray represents a breakthrough in the legislative logjam that has stymied efforts to pass online poker legislation for nearly a decade. …

In a letter to Asm. Gray last Friday, San Manuel chairwoman Lynn Valbuena said, “After eight years of discussion, very few issues remain outstanding…. We are optimistic that by working together we can get an iPoker bill passed this year.”

The full statement can be read here.

A growing group of supporters

Outside of the UAIC, a number of other tribes have been lending their support to the legislative effort.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association issued a statement last week that supported the new bill via chairman Steve Stallings:

However, as technology changed, so did the demographics of today’s gaming patron. Many don’t want to just sit in front of a slot machine or at a card table. They want a different experience that meets their lifestyles. 

“That is why CNIGA issued a set of Internet gaming principles to meet the changing times. The principles include establishing consumer safeguards, protecting children and preserving Tribal sovereignty.

“It appears that Assemblyman Gray’s AB 2863 meets those stated principles and we are supportive of Assemblyman Adam Gray’sefforts to allow gaming Tribes the option to adapt to the changing technology.

Rincon Tribal Chairman Bo Mazzetti also recently spoke at length about the online poker effort:

Initially Rincon sat on the sidelines in the push for online poker. “We weren’t excited initially,” said Mazzetti. “But more and more the younger generation is on their machines and not so much into the slot machines. They are more into mobile platforms and table games and high tech. That is kind of the future, it appears.

“So, looking down the road it appears to be a good business to look at. This is the difference, we are a government but we are also developing businesses with a lot of high tech,” he said.

Horse racing, still the unknown variable

Getting tribes pulling in the same direction on online poker is one matter; making sure the horse-racing industry is satisfied as another.

A subsidy of $60 million given to the tracks in the new bill as a condition of not being allowed to operate online poker sites is serving as a way to get the horse-racing industry to the negotiating table.

Whether that manifests itself in tracks giving their blessing to the legislation is still the biggest hurdle for the bill to clear — right up there with securing the support of all the tribes.

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