PokerStars Announces Agreement With Tribal and Cardroom Partners to Offer Online Poker in California

PokerStars Morongo

The long-rumored relationship between PokerStars and a coalition of powerful California gambling interests was confirmed today.

A press release issued by The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Commerce Club, the Hawaiian Gardens Casino, the Bicycle Casino and The Rational Group laid out the basics of an agreement that will see the group combine forces for an online poker effort once the activity becomes regulated in California.

Read the full press release below.

PokerStars will be front-facing brand

A spokesperson for PokerStars confirmed that PokerStars will not simply provide the platform and services for the partnership, but will in fact be the front-facing brand.

No additional details regarding the partnership have been released.

News timed to coincide with Assembly online poker hearing

The press release was timed to coincide with testimony of Tribal Chairman Robert Martin of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians at a hearing held by the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization.

Martin spoke forcefully against the concept of so-called “bad actor” clauses that would limit those who could participate in California’s online poker market. Both bills in play to regulate online poker contain such a clause. Both are understood to draw the bad actor brightline at the enactment of the UIGEA, which would exclude PokerStars.

Keith Sharp, General Counsel, Hawaiian Gardens Casino and iPoker Counsel to Commerce Casino, Gardens Casino and Bicycle Casino, also spoke against bad actor clauses, as did Ron Sarabi, General Manager, Hawaiian Gardens Casino.

But a variety of representatives from other tribal entities repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining the “integrity” of California’s gambling industry – a word that quickly emerged as a sort of shorthand for support of a bad actor clause.

Gene Whitehouse, Chairman, United Auburn Indian Community, Jeff L. Grubbe, Chairman, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Lynn Valbuena, Chairwoman, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and Mark Macarro, Chairman, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians were among those who stressed the need for a legislative solution to determining a baseline for suitability.

Interestingly, PokerStars was not mentioned once by name during the back-and-forth over bad actors despite being obviously central to the debate. All involved went to great lengths to refer obliquely to PokerStars, even if doing so was far more cumbersome than simply saying “PokerStars.”

Full copy of the press release


Legislation should fully protect the interests of consumers and the State, but should not be abused to artificially create a competitive advantage for a select few 

Sacramento, CAApril 23, 2014 – The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, California’s (and the world’s) three largest card clubs – the Commerce Club, the Hawaiian Gardens Casino and the Bicycle Casino – and The Rational Group, which owns and operates PokerStars, announced today that once California enacts legislation authorizing intrastate online poker, PokerStars will serve as the subcontractor providing the online poker platform and related services for a real-money online poker website to be licensed, owned and operated by an entity owned by the Tribe and the card clubs.

This will give Californians access to the world’s largest and most popular online poker brand in a safe and locally-regulated environment.

The organizations will work together to advocate for legislation that extends California’s tough, long-established gaming regulations to include intrastate online poker and thus ensure stringent consumer protection, consumer choice and maximum revenue for the state.

“We’re pleased to announce our agreement with these established and proven organizations that represent millions of California poker players,” Morongo Band of Mission Indians Tribal Chairman Robert Martin said. “We’re confident that, together, we can offer a safe, secure, high-quality online poker experience that brings financial benefits to California while providing the highest level of accountability, choice, service and protection for consumers.”

The agreement formally ties the organizations together in a long-term arrangement to promote legislation that authorizes and regulates intrastate real-money online poker in California and thereafter to all necessary licenses and other approvals to offer online poker under the new State-regulated system.

In announcing the agreement, the coalition established a set of guiding principles that it considers essential elements of any legislation to authorize intrastate online poker:

  • Extend California’s Strict Consumer Protections and High Standards of Accountability to Intrastate Real-Money Online Poker.
  • Ensure that California and Californians Benefit From State-Authorized Online Poker.
  • Require Stringent Regulatory Vetting of Operators and Subcontractors Before Authorizing Licenses, Using the Same Proven Statutory Suitability Criteria that Have Served California Well for Nearly Two Decades.
  • Reject Attempts by Special Interests to Use the Legislature to Restrict Competition and Pick “Winners and Losers.”

“Efforts by a select few interests to rewrite longstanding and effective policy in order to gain a competitive market advantage or to lock out specific companies is not in the best interests of consumers or the state and will be vigorously opposed by our coalition, online poker players and many others,” Chairman Martin added.

Speaking on behalf of the three card clubs, attorney Keith Sharp said, “As operators of the world’s largest card clubs, we are excited to join Morongo and PokerStars to provide California players with familiar brands to choose from in a well-regulated online poker experience.  California has a long history and deep expertise in regulating live poker and we look forward to working with legislators and our industry colleagues to pass a bill that enhances competition and consumer protection, while providing the state Gambling Control Commission and state Department of Justice with the regulatory tools, staff and other resources needed to apply their expertise in vetting and assessing the suitability of prospective operators and subcontractors, and providing strict ongoing regulatory oversight.”

Guy Templer, Group Director of Strategy and Business Development for the Rational Group said, “PokerStars has a great history with California poker players, who want us in the market.  We are the worldwide leader in regulated online poker and hold more national licenses than any other operator.  We look forward to bringing our best practices in responsible gaming, online security, e-commerce, protection of players’ funds and game integrity to the California market.”

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About the Morongo Band of Mission Indians

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians is a federally-recognized Indian Tribe that operates the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa near Banning (Riverside County), California, under a Class III gaming compact with the State of California. The Tribe exercises governmental jurisdiction over the 34,000+ acre Morongo Indian Reservation. Since 2009, the Morongo Band has been in the forefront of efforts to give California’s online poker players renewed access to the online games from which they’ve been excluded since 2011. The Tribe’s California LLC, Morongo Internet Poker, is one of the members of the California Internet Poker LLC.

About Commerce Casino

Commerce Casino, the largest poker casino in the world, has more than 200 tables featuring about every form of poker: Texas Hold ‘em, 7-Card Stud, Omaha, Pot Limit, Mexican Poker, Pineapple, Draw, Low-Ball and many others. Commerce Casino is recognized for its innovative “Bring Your Home Game to Commerce” program enabling poker fans to invite friends/family for a casual home game, bachelor party or birthday celebration with a professional dealer in a casino setting.  Commerce Casino is located at 6131 East Telegraph Rd., Commerce, CA 90040, just off the Santa Ana (5) Freeway at the Washington Blvd. exit. For more information, go to CommerceCasino.com or call 323.721.2100.

About Bicycle Casino

The Bicycle Casino has been a premier gaming destination in Southern California since it’s opening in 1984. Located in Bell Gardens, it has historical employed nearly 2,000 people hosting daily customers, international visitors and poker celebrities. Under the leadership of General Partners Bob Carter and Hashem Minaiy, they are expanding their facility which will soon open a world class 100 room luxury hotel to accommodate their growing tournament business.

Active participants in their community, the Bike (as it’s commonly known) contributes significant resources to the public safety and recreational needs of its Bell Gardens neighbors, provides 60% of the City of Bell Gardens annual budget, and through its Bicycle Casino Community Foundation, provides several thousands of dollars  annually in college scholarships to deserving students.

About Hawaiian Gardens Casino

Hawaiian Gardens Casino has been an integral part of the City of Hawaiian Gardens for nearly 20 years. The Hawaiian Garden Casino opened with five tables and has grown to nearly 200 tables in our current 59,500 square foot facility. Hawaiian Gardens Casino is the second largest card club and ranks second in revenue in the world. Hawaiian Gardens Casino is presently constructing a new 220,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art casino. Scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2016, this new facility will include 300 gaming tables as well as a restaurant, lounge, VIP gaming section and event center capable of hosting 75 tournament tables. 

About The Rational Group

The Rational Group operates gaming and related businesses and brands including PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, the European Poker Tour, PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Latin American Poker Tour and the Asia Pacific Poker Tour. These brands collectively form the largest poker business in the world, comprising online poker games and tournaments, live poker competitions and poker programming created for television and online audiences. In addition to operating the two largest online poker sites where it dealt more than 100 billion poker hands and ran over 800 million online tournaments, the group is also the largest producer of live poker events around the world. More than 800 live tournaments are held annually, awarding over $215 million in prize money. More than 50,000 players compete in flagship Main Event tournaments every year, representing over 100 different countries.

Rational Group’s businesses are among the most respected in the industry for delivering high-quality player experiences, unrivalled customer service, and innovative software. The Group employs industry-leading practices in payment security, game integrity, and player fund protection. The Rational Group holds more online poker licenses than any other e-gaming company, and works closely with regulators around the world to help establish sensible global regulation. The group has a truly international presence, with more than 1,700 employees in over 20 locations around the world. There are major service offices in Isle of Man, United Kingdom, Ireland, Costa Rica, Australia, Spain, Italy, France and Malta, offering customer support in 29 languages.

Chris Grove
Chris Grove - Chris is the co-founder and an editor of OnlinePokerReport.com. He's written for dozens of gambling publications and has been involved with various aspects of the online poker industry since 2004.