California Tribes Talking in Hopes of Online Poker Consensus

Posted on April 6th, 2015 by Daniel Ryder
California online poker alliance tribes

The Pechanga have opposed allowing PokerStars in California, but might now be open to an alliance. (Image: Pechanga Resort Casino logo)

Online poker in California could be a big business, and that has motivated just about every gaming interest in the state to fight for the best deal possible before others manage to build enough support behind a bill that doesn’t serve their own interests.

That may be why some California tribes were reportedly very receptive to a call to build consensus among Native American groups in the state, one that would likely include PokerStars but leave the horse racing industry out in the cold.

At last week’s National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) Annual Tradeshow and Convention in San Diego, several Indian tribal leaders were put in the same room for meetings designed to get the various tribes on the same page when it comes to online poker, in the hopes of building a wide coalition that can finally push a bill through the state legislature.

According to reporting by Dave Palermo of Online Poker Report, the meeting was the brainchild of Cody Martinez, the new chairman of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay nation.

Nine Tribes Talk in San Diego

It was reported that nine tribes in total attended the meeting. That includes some number from the seven-tribe coalition led by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, which had long supported having a bad actor clause in any online poker bill considered in California.

However, that coalition now appears to be softening that stance, at least according to some who were party to the meetings in San Diego. They say that the talk now is of a powerful alliance that could make poker legislation a reality.

“That’s the idea Sycuan and Pechanga are floating,” said Robert Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. “I don’t know. If we were all united, I could perhaps see where it would work.”

The Morongo and San Manuel Bands of Mission Indians have already partnered with PokerStars, as have three large card rooms (the Commerce Club, the Bicycle Casino, and the Hawaiian Gardens Casino).

However, this group and the Pechanga coalition have often clashed over issues such as a bad actor clause that could serve to delay or prevent PokerStars’ entry into the state market.

Coalition Vs. Horse Racing Industry Over Online Poker

Were an alliance to be reached, the new opposition would be the state’s horse racing tracks.

While tribes have a variety of opinions on how to include (or not include) the horse racing industry in online poker, it’s likely the new coalition would be designed to overcome any opposition the tracks could put up in the state legislature.

The horse racing industry isn’t likely to bow out quietly, however. Governor Jerry Brown has already said that he would not sign a bill unless it addressed the racing industry’s concerns, and lobbyists for the industry say that they are just as entitled as tribes and card rooms to any new form of gambling that is introduced in the state.

“I don’t think you’re going to get two-thirds of the legislators to ignore the racing industry’s right to this new form of gaming just because a few wealthy tribes want it that way,” said Robyn Black, a lobbyist for the horse racing industry.

While the meetings may be a first step towards more cooperation across California’s Indian tribes, nothing concrete was agreed upon in San Diego. However, the tribes did agree to continue talking in the future.

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