According to a report that appeared in Capitol Weekly, the battle over whether California Indian tribes can provide online poker may soon come to a head. Many in the industry are anticipating a hearing on the issue next month, as the tribe behind an effort to create a state-sanctioned online poker site last year has apparently renewed its efforts to push a bill.
The issue arose last August, when one of California’s largest casino gaming tribes, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, formed a group called the California Tribal Intrastate Internet Poker Consortium. The Morongo worked with the Commerce Casino and the Bicycle Club to pursue an exclusive deal to offer online poker in California.
That deal fell apart when the tribe and card rooms grew concerned that the issue was being rushed through the legislative process. However, the Morongo Tribe is continuing its efforts, according to spokesperson Patrick Dorinson: “We’re still reaching out to different tribes. We’re trying to take into account everyone’s issue.”
The California Tribal Business Alliance (Cal-TBA), another influential group, rallied to detract the first proposal and continues to offer some of the loudest opposition. The group’s executive director, Allison Harvey, has argued that it could violate the exclusivity clauses in gaming compacts with casino tribes and potentially throw the legal basis for gaming in California into chaos, a contention that Morongo representatives rejected. This could place in danger the $1 million per day the State receives as the proceeds from gaming compacts with numerous California casino tribes, Harvey said.
Harvey noted that the Morongo tribe has engaged in numerous meetings. These included a summit of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) that took place earlier this month during the annual Western Indian Gaming Conference in Palm Springs. “We assume some others may well surface, just because they opened the door when they brought this up last summer,” Harvey said.
The Senate Governmental Organization Committee will take up the question of online poker when it meets on February 9th. While no new legislation has been introduced, the proposal seems to have some people talking about the potential revenue streams to the state from online poker. About 1.4 million Californians are already playing poker on the internet via offshore websites, said Sacramento-based gaming attorney Martin Owens, citing a 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers study.
“You’ve got something like a billion dollars leaving the state every year that does nobody any good except the offshore operators,” Owens said. “Internet gambling is here to stay. The only rational thing to do is organize it, license it, supervise it – and by all means, get the benefits.”
While invitations have gone out to numerous speakers, a lineup for the February 9th hearing has not been finalized. However, speakers will reportedly focus on a number of issues, including compatibility with tribal compacts and with federal gaming laws. The federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIEGA) bans the use of credit cards and funds transfers for illegal internet gambling, although there is an exception for “intrastate” internet gambling – a clause that would appear to allow for online gambling within a state, as long as the location and identity of players could be verified.