California Tribes Sign Letter Blasting Online Poker Bill

Posted on March 13th, 2015 by Jon Pineda
 California online poker bill letter

Six powerful Native American tribes sent a letter opposing Reggie Jones-Sawyer’s California online poker bill. (Image:

California online poker is the kind of idea that just about everyone agrees on in concept, but not when it comes down to the details.

Six prominent California Native American tribes have brought the rifts that exist in the state’s gaming industry to the forefront yet again this week, as they signed off on a letter to Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) saying that they strongly oppose his online poker bill, AB 167.

In the letter, six tribes said that their opposition is based on two major factors: the lack of a bad actor clause in his legislation, and the fact that it would allow horse racing tracks to be a part of the Internet poker landscape.

The tribes that endorsed the letter included the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, and the Youcha Dehe Wintun Nation.

Tribes Say Public Does Not Want Expanded Gaming for Racetracks

“The Tribal Governments shown on this letter write to advise you of our united opposition to your Assembly Bill 167 and any legislation that would expand the scope of gaming in California to grant internet poker licenses to horse racing associations or which would ease regulatory standards to accommodate actors whose past behavior and tainted brands and assets would erode the integrity of intrastate internet poker under consideration,” the letter began.

First, the tribes expressed their opposition to allowing horse racing facilities to operate online poker sites. The letter cited the fact that California voters have supported Indian gaming in the past, but have been much less supportive of allowing racetracks to have the same life.

“It must be noted that the voters of California have voted on multiple occasions (1998, 2000, 2008) in support of tribal government gaming and have given overwhelming approval to a Constitutional Amendment granting Indian tribal governments exclusive authority over Las Vegas-style casino gaming,” the letter read. “By comparison, the voters have rejected expanded gaming at horseracing facilities.”

Bad Actor Discussion Makes Up Bulk of Letter

However, while the letter began by talking about the horse racing question, it spent most of its length discussing the issue of bad actor clauses.

“It is crucial that any internet poker bill protect this public policy interest in order to instill public trust and confidence in the integrity, fairness and legitimacy of state-sanctioned internet poker,” the letter stated.

At this point, the tribes pulled no punches, discussing a bad actor clause by name and specifically referring to Absolute Poker, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars as brands that were targeted by the federal government in 2011. The letter then points out that the neighboring state of Nevada uses a rather strong bad actor clause, one that prevents tainted assets (such as the PokerStars brand name) from being introduced even if they’ve been sold to new owners.

“The citizens of California deserve protection from bad actors,” the tribes wrote. “The language proposed in AB 167 is not sufficient to protect the integrity of the California market.”

The letter also points out that a tribal coalition that supports AB 167 was previously in favor of a bad actor clause before they began working with “one of those presumed violators, and its successor corporation,” referring to PokerStars and Amaya Gaming respectively.

AB 167 is just one of three unique online poker bills currently sitting in the California legislature. It is unclear which (if any) of these bills has the most support among the varied tribes, card rooms, and other gaming interests in the state.

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