Could 2015 Be Year iGaming Starts Gaining Traction With Tribal Interests?

Future Of California Online Poker Debate Could Be Shaped At Indian Country Online Congress

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The upcoming Indian Country Online Congress comes at a crucial time for the future of online poker in California, as tribal interests in the state attempt to reach consensus on iGaming legislation.

The third annual conference will take place June 10-11 at the Pala Casino Spa And Resort in Pala, Calif.

The event will bring together tribal gaming interests from around the United States –including operators, suppliers, regulators, attorneys, analysts, and gaming experts — and will feature more than 30 speakers from all parts of the iGaming space.

The politics panel

There are six different panels scheduled for the ICO, but one in particular will be of great interest, especially in the California market.

The “iPolitics” panel will look at the current climate for online gaming legislation, and at the prospects for California online poker.

Here’s the description from the ICO website:

iGaming remains legal in three US states but interest has cooled for new jurisdictions to come online. California could break the logjam if it passes iPoker legislation.

A Great Debate rages between proponents and prohibitionists of iGaming both in Washington and at the state level. Potential federal legislation could ban iGaming completely or prevent tribal operators from ever participating.

Listen to a roundtable of eminent political, regulatory, and Native American leaders examine political realities and assess potential opportunities in the conference’s culminating discussion.

The politics panel is the final session of the daylong event, and features Jonodev Chaudhuri, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, and Ernest L. Stevens, Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association.

Stevens said this leading up to the event:

“The National Indian Gaming Association’s Internet Gaming Principles will continue to guide us as the Internet Gaming debate progresses. The strength of our organization has always come from the unity of our Member Tribes and tribal leaders.

These principles call for any Internet gaming legislation to acknowledge the inherent right of all federally recognized tribes, as governments not subject to taxation, to engage and regulate tribal Internet gaming.”

Also up for discussion

Other panels at ICO include:

  • iPlayer, which will take a look at the typical online gambler and how they differ from customers in the tribes’ brick and mortar casinos.
  • iStrategy, which will present ideas about how tribes should generate an over-arching strategy to their online presence, beyond just offering iGaming.
  • iMobile, which will look at how tribal gaming interests can use mobile technology in offering wagering possibilities to their customers.
  • iSkill/iSocial, in which opportunities outside of traditional casino games and poker will be considered.
  • iFantasy/iSports, in which the future of casinos and fantasy sports will be examined.

The tone and content of these panels could certainly have some wide-ranging effects on how tribes move foward on iGaming. Generally, the panels seem like they will be forward-thinking, and a solid collection of speakers and online gaming experts have been tapped to appear at ICO.

Interestingly, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins, from the world of daily fantasy sports, is the keynote speaker for the day’s luncheon.

There has been some momentum for casinos to start offering fantasy sports contests, but never from a tribe’s perspective. Eilers Research’s Adam Krejcik will give the opening remarks.

California is the epicenter

Nowhere is the possibility for the future of iGaming for Native American tribes more evident than in California.

Last month, the state made legitimate progress toward legalizing and regulating online poker, when AB 431 passed out of committee. But the bill still remains basically a shell, with few details ironed out on the scope and particulars of how iPoker would be implemented.

A joint committee hearing in the legislature last week laid the groundwork for future discussions.

Right now, the biggest hurdle for online poker legislation is finding consensus among the numerous tribes in California; one coalition currently will not support a bill if it allows racetracks to offer online poker.

Certainly a consensus will not be reached at the ICO, but it does provide a forum for discussion. And the ICO could have the power to shape and alter the narrative for iGaming and iPoker in California and beyond in the coming months and years.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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