California Online Poker Still Lacking Solution To Track Dilemma

Tribal Meetings On California Online Poker Might Not Be Enough To Advance Bill

This article may be outdated. Get the latest news on California here.

Licensing horse tracks to operate online poker websites in California is emerging as the crucial issue as members of rival American Indian coalitions meet individually in an effort to reach agreement on online poker legislation.

Sacramento insiders who believe consensus among the politically influential casino tribes is necessary to get an online poker bill through the state Legislature view the recent meetings between members of the rival coalitions as a positive step in that direction.

But they are not certain a bill will make it through the House and Senate without support from the equally politically powerful racing industry. And tribal attempts to pacify the pari-mutuel horse tracks may not do the job.

Bad actor concerns receding?

Tribal sources contend concern about “bad actor” language and opposition to Amaya / Poker Stars has dissipated as the company is approved for licensing in other states.

“That issue has largely become moot,” said a tribal source who requested anonymity.

Meanwhile, several sources said there is growing tribal sentiment to let tracks enter into “affiliate” licensing agreements with tribes and card rooms operating poker websites.

This is viewed as a concession to a coalition of about eight tribes headed by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians staunchly opposed to licensing tracks.

Role of tracks in online poker remains a chokepoint

“For the tracks it would have to be something short” of full licensure, said Steve Stallings, councilman of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, one of five tribes in a rival coalition. Two of the tribes are aligned with Amaya/Poker Stars and three Los Angeles area card rooms.

“The number one issue is the tracks, if we can resolve that among the tribes,” Stallings said. “Politically, we’ll still have to get that through the legislature. But at least the tribes will all be on one page.”

Robyn Black of Eclipse Government Affairs, a racing industry lobbyist, is aware of recent tribal efforts to reach consensus on online poker.

“I know that they’ve been meeting,” Black said of the tribes. “That does not surprise me. Once Amaya became successful in New Jersey it was only a matter of time before that (bad actor issue) became a moot point.”

But she and other racing industry officials contend they will not agree to anything short of full licensure to operate poker websites. That includes offers by tribal officials to share online poker revenues with the tracks.

“Why would we accept less when we are equally entitled under the law?” Black said.

“That would be like me arguing that card rooms and tribal governments can’t have Internet poker because the Internet is exclusive to us,” she said, noting that only race tracks are allowed to accept online wagers.

AB 167, an online poker bill sponsored by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer that would extend licensing to tribes, card rooms and the tracks, was pulled from a committee hearing earlier this week. No explanation was given.

Opening a channel for dialogue

The Pechanga coalition has contended that permitting online poker beyond tribal casinos and card rooms would be an expansion of gambling contrary to public policy and a threat to the constitutional guarantee of tribes to operate casino gambling.

It appears, however, that the Pechanga coalition is willing to discuss the issue.

“Our coalition has reached out to them,” a Pechanga source said of the tribal/card room/Amaya coalition. “We haven’t heard back yet.”

The source downplayed any willingness by the Pechanga group to bend on licensing the tracks and “bad actor” provisions.

“We made no proposal,” the source said. “We’re just reaching out to get together, to talk.

“We’ve made it very clear. Race tracks cannot be a part of it [online poker legislation]. And we need to do something about the bad actors. Two points.”

The source said the Pechanga coalition is disturbed that it has been portrayed as obstructionists to online poker legislation, claiming the group has merely taken a hard line on the race tracks and bad actor language.

“We’re not opposed to Internet poker,” the source said. “We’re opposed to the wrong Internet poker. We’ve said that a thousand times. We’re not anti-poker. We’re anti the wrong bill and the wrong people being involved in it. We’ve been very, very clear on that.”

Meanwhile, Chair Lynn Valbuena of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians and Chairman Robert Martin of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians – members of the tribal/card room/Amaya coalition – have met with Pechanga coalition tribes.

“We have not stopped our efforts, meeting with individual tribes and [as a] coalition,” Stallings said.

There have not, however, been any recent meetings of the Pechanga coalition.

Pechanga tribal officials did not respond to telephone calls and emails seeking comment.

Changing dynamic of industry may act as prompt

Tribes may be influenced by statistics and studies showing a decline in slot machine revenues and a propensity of millennials to avoid the devices in favor of skilled gambling and mobile wagering on smart phones.

The gateway to marketing younger gamblers may be online poker.

“In the gaming technology area … if [tribes] miss this they’re going to miss the boat overall,” Stallings said of Internet wagering. “You might stay in business but you aren’t going to grow.”

“That’s exactly why they want to keep racing out,” Black said. “It’s not about the law.

“We all know the future of gaming is with these Millennials. [The Pechanga coalition] want us to not have the same opportunities going forward. It’s just not fair. Gaming is changing. Millennials are changing the game.”

Image credit: 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.
Privacy Policy