Oklahoma Indian Tribe Earns Legal Right to Operate Online Poker Site

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The battle regarding the regulation of online poker in the United States has grinded to a halt. Since three states passed laws regulating the industry in 2013, there has been little to no action since then towards more states joining in the party (2016? Let’s talk that over tomorrow…). Now a small Indian tribe in the middle of the country seems to have done something that state legislatures have been unwilling to do since 2013.

After a decision in U. S. District Court in Oklahoma City, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma has won the right to be able to offer online poker to customers on an international basis. The Iowa Tribe is looking to have their website, PokerTribe.com, up and running in early 2016 with all the amenities that online poker fans have previously enjoyed (full casino gaming would come at a later date). Perhaps the biggest caveat of all is that it will be an international system, something that might draw the crowds initially.

According toNewsOK.com’s Brianna Bailey, the Iowa Tribe received a ruling from an arbiter that an online poker operation run from the tribal lands was not a violation of either federal or state law. In fact, Bailey reports, the freedom to offer online gaming and poker was covered by the Oklahoma Tribal-State Gaming Compact. The arbiter’s decision wasn’t binding until the U. S. District Court in charge of that area of the U. S. approved, with that decision coming down last week.

The Iowa Tribe has teamed with Universal Entertainment Group to provide the software for the proposed site, which apparently has been in the works for some time. “(We) could be launched within a matter of weeks,” Isaias Almira, the manager of UEG, said to Bailey. “I and our entire team have been working on this for many years.”

That may be a bit of an understatement. According to Bailey, UEG has been courting an Oklahoma Indian tribe to partner with for internet gaming. Prior to this agreement with the Iowa Tribe, UEG had teamed with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma for another venture, PokerTribes.com, believing that an Indian operation could generate as much as $132 million by 2018 from an online gaming site. After a change in tribal leadership (and some legal difficulties on the federal front), those tribes dropped out of the deal with UEG in 2014.

Where there may be some disagreement is in how many customers (and where they are) that PokerTribe.com might be able to reach. While areas of the United States that don’t have any online gaming regulations wouldn’t be able to participate, Almira says that players in the three states that have been able to pass regulation – Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware – would be able to partake of the PokerTribe.com product as well as the international poker community. The problem with this is that those three states have essentially made operating an online gaming operation within their borders that isn’t licensed by their regulators illegal. Additionally, international players would be able to play on PokerTribe.com but, with already legal options such as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, 888 and others out there, how would PokerTribe.com break into the game?

What might be the best sign in this decision is that, according to the Iowa Tribe’s tribal chairman Bobby Walkup, it isn’t a decision that was set aside for just the Iowa Tribe alone. “The arbitrator’s decision applies to all tribes in the state of Oklahoma,” Walkup is quoted by Bailey as saying in a statement following the announcement of the legal decision. “Every tribe has the same opportunity as the Iowa Tribe to engage in internet gaming consistent with the arbitrator’s decision.”

The road may be opened for the Iowa Tribe to open their online gaming and poker operation, but there are some hoops left to jump through. Much like the previous operations by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, the federal government may step in at the last minute and override the District Court decision at a higher level, forcing the small tribe (800 members) to spend a great deal of capital on legal fees if they want to pursue the issue. Still, it is a good sign to end 2015 with another potential outlet for online gaming and poker in the United States.

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