CA Unions Don't Want Tracks Nosed Out Of CA Online Poker

Unions Talk Tough With Tribes Opposing Tracks On California Online Poker

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Lawyer, lobbyist and crime mystery novelist Barry Broad, a longtime advocate for California labor unions, isn’t all that impressed with a coalition of American Indian tribes seeking to keep the racing industry out of online poker.

“I think they’re kind of a paper tiger,” said Broad, whose sequel Requiem for the Damned was published in 2012.

Broad represents Teamsters and Service Employee International Union (SEIU) workers for the California horse racing industry, a largely agricultural conglomerate that wields considerable political clout in Sacramento.

California horse racing is at the center of the debate as draft online poker legislation winds its way through a series of Senate and House hearings.

Powerful coalition opposes race track involvement in online poker

A coalition of six or seven tribes – led by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians – want to restrict poker website licensees to tribes and card rooms.

The coalition believes licensing tracks would violate public policy supporting limited gambling in California. They also fear allowing tracks to get into the poker business could ultimately encroach on the tribes’ constitutionally guaranteed exclusivity to operate casino-style gambling.

“We look forward to a meaningful process and arriving at comprehensive legislation that respects California’s longstanding public policy of limited gaming,” Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro told an Assembly committee.

Much is made of the political face-off on online poker between the tribes and the tracks.

But the labor unions representing betting clerks, jockeys and track workers will also be heard from on the issue.

Clout vs clout

Racing spans the state, from Southern California to the agricultural heartland. It’s an industry with a long tradition. It employs more than 50,000 people, many of them two and three generations in the racing business. There aren’t too many state senators and assemblymen who don’t have track workers in their district.

And it’s no secret Jerry Brown is partial to both the tracks and the unions, though with a state dying of thirst it doesn’t figure that online poker would be high on his agenda.

“I don’t think [Brown’s office] is terribly engaged or losing sleep over the issue,” Broad said.

Sources with the Pechanga coalition have floated the notion that the dozen or so tribes active on online poker should unify against licensing tracks.

The “bad actor” and “tainted assets” issues dogging PokerStars – in a partnership with the Morongo and San Manuel Indians and three Los Angeles area card rooms – would, of course, vanish into thin air if the tribes were to go against the tracks.

Combined with the card rooms and Amaya/ PokerStars, Pechanga coalition sources said they could amass the political clout needed to get an online poker bill requiring two-thirds the Assembly and Senate out of the legislature in 2015.

No go without tracks, says Broad

Broad doesn’t buy it.

“It would be very hard to move a bill out with a two-thirds vote that doesn’t include the tracks,” Broad said.

“They’re not going to get a two-thirds vote. They’re not. These are some very big unions.”

Instead, Broad sees the PokerStars/tribal/card room coalition uniting with the tracks and three other tribes that recognize the need to have racing in their corner, namely the Rincon and Pala bands of Luiseno Indians and Auburn Indian Community.

Together, he said, they can overcome Pechanga, Agua, Viejas and the others.

“There are only a few tribes that are opposed to the tracks,” Broad said.

He questioned whether the tribal casinos operated by Pechanga, Agua Caliente, Viejas and the others are substantial enough to warrant significant political clout.

“They’re medium-sized businesses,” Broad said. “They’re not Google.”

Who wants online poker in California?

Broad suspects the coalition has no desire to see an online poker bill get out of the legislature that would impact their brick and mortar casinos.

“I think maybe their true motivation is they don’t want to see anything passed,” Broad said.

And he accuses some tribal leaders of being delusional, caught up in the notion they can single-handedly influence legislation.

“You can convince yourself of anything when you’re having an intense conversation with yourself,” Broad said.

To be fair to Macarro, he and other tribal leaders in the coalition have been consistent in their position on the tracks, public policy for limited gambling and maintaining stringent eligibility qualifications in Internet poker legislation.

Macarro at the GiGse Conference in San Francisco said his tribe hasn’t softened its position on “bad actor” language or agreed to any alliance with PokerStars.

And he flatly denied the coalition was being an obstructionist on online poker.

But Broad isn’t convinced.

“I don’t buy that principle argument at all,” he said.

Image Cheryl Ann Quigley /

- Dave Palermo is an award-winning metropolitan newspaper reporter. He has written about American Indian governments for more than 20 years, working as an advocate for several tribes and tribal associations. He also has co-authored books on gambling and gambling law.
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