Native tribes in California have gotten together in an effort to propose an Internet poker bill that would represent their interests on the legislative front.
Attempts to regulate online poker in the Golden State have repeatedly been thwarted by divisions in the tribal gaming industry. While some tribes have attempted to promote online poker legislation in the past, many others still hold out fears that Internet gaming expansion would decrease revenue at their brick and mortar casinos.
There are indications that more Indian tribes are beginning to change their views and embrace online poker legislation. Part of the reason for that has been the Internet gambling statutes passed in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, and the proposals being considered by legislatures in other states. Nevada made history last week when Ultimate Poker successfully launched the first legal online poker site in the U.S.
Tribes are primed right now to start working with lawmakers to hammer out legislation that will reap the benefits of revenue expected from online poker, said Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. Macarro was in attendance at an Internet gaming conference that was sponsored by a California publication that covers politics, Capitol Weekly. Macarro also told The Press-Enterprise that the reluctant stance toward online wagering previously taken by many tribes
Another tribe involved in the legislative discussions is the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. A lobbyist for the group, Barry Brokaw, said that
a great commonality of purpose is now being seen among tribes who had heretofore not been swayed by the prospects of online poker. Brokaw added that
serious discussions may soon be undertaken with state lawmakers in an effort to add California to the list of states that have enacted forms of online gambling legislation.
One tribe that had previously been active in attempts to legalize online poker was the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. As part of the California Online Poker Association (COPA), San Manuel spent the past few years lobbying for legislation. The group was part of a consortium of 29 tribes and 31 card rooms who banded together to ensure that all members would be recognized and receive a fair share of revenue.
The association dissolved last October when its efforts to bring about online poker legislation were repeatedly stymied by bickering between the state’s tribes, card rooms and horse racing interests. However, many insiders believe that COPA was partly responsible for the failure of any bills to gain support due to their insistence that the horse racing industry be excluded from participation in the Golden State’s online poker regime.
While the tribes are changing their views and drafting a new measure, two proposals are already on the table in California. Senator Lou Correa introduced a bare-bones bill in February that calls for the state’s Gambling Control Commission to establish a regulatory framework. Senator Rod Wright also proposed SB 51 in late December. Wright and fellow Senator Darrell Steinberg co-sponsored SB 1463 last year. That bill landed in the muck when common ground among the parties involved failed to be reached. Wright’s new proposal specifically permits advance deposit wagering firms (ADWs) and racetracks to participate.
California lawmakers have been trying to pass online poker legislation since as far back as 2008. Despite a slew of public hearings and negotiations with the state’s gaming interests that amounted to time spent in the hundreds of hours, nary a vote has ever been taken to pass Internet poker legislation.
With a population of over 37 million, California is seen as the crown jewel of interstate online poker in the U.S. Other states are salivating at the thought of adding Golden State residents to the mix to increase player liquidity (and revenue). It is not known whether the tribe’s proposal currently in the works allows for interstate play. SB 51 has been proposed by Wright as an intrastate model. However, Nevada also began with intrastate poker legislation before amending the statute in February to include compacts with other states. The entire nation would benefit if California did the same.