San Manuel Joins Morongo, PokerStars Alliance in California Online Poker Effort

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Major news for California’s push to regulate online poker today as the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians announced their intent to partner with an existing coalition made of of PokerStars, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and California’s three largest card clubs.

The announcement represents only the latest twist in a long saga of shifting relationships, alliances and priorities among the potential stakeholders in California’s regulated online poker industry.

PokerStars partnership a fundamental shift for San Manuel

The announcement comes only months after San Manuel publicly signaled their support for a draft online poker bill that would have explicitly excluded PokerStars from the California market.

And in March of 2014, San Manuel was one of twelve tribes that endorsed a statement slamming PokerStars’ attempts to enter California. Excerpt:

Recent news reports indicate that online poker operator, PokerStars, is in partnership negotiations with a California tribe and two or more card clubs to offer online poker in California. Although we presently have slightly differing views on a legislative framework for Intrastate Internet Poker in California, our tribal governments are united in our steadfast opposition to the easing of regulatory standards that would accommodate bad actors whose past behavior and tainted brands and assets would erode the integrity of Intrastate Internet poker under consideration.

It’s worth noting that the letter predated news of Amaya’s acquisition of PokerStars.

What’s the impact?

Opposition to PokerStars remains

In a recent interview with iGaming Business, Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro implied that his tribe remains steadfastly opposed to PokerStars’ participation in the California market.

As a result of that continuing dynamic, Chris Krafcik of GamblingCompliance saw little more than the proverbial reshuffling of deck chairs in today’s news:

San Manuel decision pushes momentum in PokerStars’ favor

Krafcik’s point is a fair one.  While the move of San Manuel from the “against” to the “for” column is clearly a boon to PokerStars’ chances in California, it’s not akin to a sweeping aside of the bad actor issue.

But the decision by San Manuel does suggest two things that bode well for PokerStars in California: (i) that the bad actor issue is not as intractable for all parties as originally presented in June and; (ii) that San Manuel could provide cover for other members of the Pechanga / San Manuel tribal coalition that weren’t completely sold on excluding PokerStars but saw no reason to stick their neck out.

Tracks’ alignment remains a key question

True test comes in December

Where does the rubber of all of these partnerships actually meet the road?

That would be December, when we’ll likely get our first glimpse at the bill that will serve as the vehicle for online poker’s hopes in California for 2015.

What bad actor language we see – or don’t see – at that stage will tell the fuller story about the inroads PokerStars has been able to make among the wide-ranging tribal group that isn’t included in the San Manuel / Morongo / Card club coalition.

Full statement from San Manuel, PokerStars and Morongo

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Joins with Morongo Band of Mission Indians, California’s Largest Card Clubs and Amaya to Offer Online Poker in California when Authorizing Legislation is Passed

Addition of San Manuel reflects “new day” where gaming interests must work together in order to finally pass online poker legislation in California. 

Sacramento, CA, November 11, 2014 – The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians announced today that it has agreed to join the existing business agreement between the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, California’s three largest card clubs – the Commerce Club, the Hawaiian Gardens Casino and the Bicycle Casino – and the Amaya Gaming Group, which owns and operates PokerStars.

These gaming operators will join together to operate a licensed online poker site in California once legislation is enacted to authorize iPoker. This coalition will also work together to advocate for legislation that extends California’s tough, long-established gaming regulations to include intrastate online poker.

“We are pleased to join this coalition,” said Lynn Valbuena, Chairwoman – San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. “We are convinced that the various interests must work together if we are to be successful in establishing a well-regulated environment and the best-in-class Internet poker industry for California.”

“We’re pleased to welcome San Manuel to our coalition. It marks a new day in our efforts to authorize online poker in California,” Morongo Band of Mission Indians Tribal Chairman Robert Martin said. “We’re excited about the momentum and opportunities this new agreement represents in getting legislation passed. As tribes come together on this issue, the opportunity for success grows.”

Speaking on behalf of the three card clubs, attorney Keith Sharp said, “We are very pleased to welcome San Manuel to our coalition.  We look forward to working with legislators and our industry colleagues to pass a bill that provides strong regulation and consumer protection.” 

Guy Templer, Group Business Development Director with PokerStars said, “San Manuel is a strong, forward thinking operator and is a great partner to join our coalition in advocating for the development of an open and well regulated iPoker market in California. We are looking forward to working with the Legislature and with other stakeholders to help develop an industry that will benefit California consumers and the State alike.”

- Chris is the publisher of Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.
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