California Tribe Defies State to Launch Real Money Poker Site

Posted on July 16th, 2014 by Daniel Ryder
The Santa Ysabel Casino closed in February; now the California tribe has launched an online poker site.

The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel previously operated a casino that closed earlier this year, mired in debt. (Image:

There are plenty of Native American tribes in California that have been dying to get into the world of online poker. But while there’s plenty of momentum to get a bill passed in the state, these tribes have battled with other interests (and each other) over what kind of bill the legislature should consider. Now, one tribe has decided that they’ve waited long enough, and has decided to launch a site of their own accord, possibly flaunting state laws altogether.

The Santa Ysabel Tribal Development Corporation has announced that they will be launching an online poker site called, one that aims to offer real money Internet poker to California residents. The site would be regulated by the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel itself, and would be operated by an enterprise known as Santa Ysabel Interactive.

An Alternative to Offshore Sites

“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to expanding upon the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel’s successful track record in the regulated gaming industry,” said spokesperson Dave Vialpando in a statement. “The Gaming Commission has applied its years of experience to ensure the integrity of the games when designing the framework for Santa Ysabel Interactive’s I-poker website.”

The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel has been an active participant in tribal gaming since California first started allowing the practice in 1999. In 2003, the tribe negotiated a gaming compact with the state, and operated the Santa Ysabel Casino on their reservation until it closed in February after it accumulated more than $50 million in debt.

Based on early reports, the site appears to be using the same software found on the sites that are part of the Winning Poker Network. The site has also partnered with the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which will host some of Santa Ysabel’s gaming operation.

Tribe Cites IGRA for Authority to Operate Site

While it remains to be seen if the state of California will see it this way, the tribe sees their site as a “legal alternative to the unregulated, illegal Internet-based gambling websites.” Despite the lack of state legislation allowing the tribe to offer online games, they believe they can do so without California’s approval, based on sovereignty principles.

“The Tribe supports the effort by the Legislature to enact interactive gambling legislation in the State, but has decided to rely on the tribal sovereignty and the provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) to offer I-poker from the Tribe’s reservation,” Vialpando said. “Santa Ysabel Interactive currently has no plans to offer Internet-based slot machines or banked-games through its website,, but will consider offering other gaming consistent with IGRA.”

Given the significant debts still facing the tribe after the shutdown of their casino, it is fitting that the statement identified the economic benefits of an online poker room as one of the main reasons for the launch.

“The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel…is looking forward to applying the revenues generated from Santa Ysabel Interactive to further the economic goals of the Nation,” the statement read. “It is the Tribe’s goal to increase the standard of living for the Nation’s members, invest in tribal infrastructure improvements, and achieve economic self-sufficiency through multiple, different and diverse business ventures.”

As of early Monday, real money play did not appear to be available on However, the website for the poker room said that banking options were available at a Smoke Shop on the Santa Ysabel reservation, and that Finpay, an e-wallet solution, would soon be available for online banking. Until real money play begins, the site has been hosting freerolls that award vouchers for the Apple and Google app stores.

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