After several years of stonewalling any movement regarding online poker in the state, California’s powerful Indian tribes are now backing the move towards regulation in the state of the industry. The caveat, however, is that the tribes would be the ones to offer the outlet, shutting out other businesses in the state.
The Indian tribes, who mentioned during hearings in the California General Assembly last month that they were preparing to issue a statement regarding their stance on online poker, came through earlier this week with that statement. In reversing their stance, the Indian tribes stated that, according to California law enacted by its citizens, they should be the only ones who would be allowed to offer online poker. This would eliminate a strong California card room industry (with such players as the Commerce Casino, the Bicycle Casino and Bay 101, just to name a few) and the less-powerful California horse racing community from taking part in what is an expected California “gold rush” for online poker. If they were granted the exclusive rights to operate online poker, the Indian tribes would withdraw their opposition to online poker regulation in the state.
While this would remove a major obstacle in the molasses-slow approach that California has taken regarding online poker regulation, the subject isn’t out of the woods as of yet. Although they may not have the same strength as the Indian tribes, the card rooms and racetracks aren’t going to just allow what would be a multi-million dollar industry to slip through their fingers. Then there is the question of who would provide any software support for the proposed California online poker industry.
During the hearing in April, a very well-timed announcement came out while the Indian tribes were presenting their testimony. During that testimony, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, one of the larger groups in the Indian consortium, announced they had reached a deal with PokerStars to provide the software platform (the Morongo Band also joined with three California card rooms in the announcement, strangely). This could provide another obstacle as, with current legislation as it is written, there is a “bad actor” clause that would prevent PokerStars (due to its continued patronage of U. S. players following the 2006 enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act) from being a part of the industry, at least for a five year period.
The movement in California towards online poker regulation has picked up some speed in 2014 due to continued failure of federal legislation and, in particular, from actions by ant-online gaming forces. One of the witnesses at the April hearing in California was Sheldon Adelson front man Andy Abboud, who testified on behalf of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation against online poker regulation in the state. While Abboud was routed heavily by the legislators in attendance at the meeting (pointing out not only the LVSC’s failure to oppose Nevada and New Jersey’s regulation of the industry but also the LVSC’s usage of online gaming tools in their own right), it is Adelson’s lobbying organization that is perhaps most worrisome.
The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, in addition to having legislation in Congress that would outlaw online gaming and poker, has vowed to fight on a state-by-state basis also. In California, that has brought former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown – a onetime pro-online poker advocate – to their side as a national co-chair and chairman of the efforts in the Golden State to prevent online poker. Because of the connection with Adelman, however, it is unknown what effect the CSIG will have on any future California legislation.
The continued discussion in California regarding online poker is promising, but many in the industry do not view any passage during this current legislative session. The popular bet for many in the gaming world is that California will pass something in 2015 following the state’s elections in November.