PokerStars Coalition Increases Its Numbers In CA, But Maybe Not Its Chances

Strength In Numbers? United Auburn Indian Community Joins PokerStars’ CA Coalition

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In a statement released last Wednesday afternoon, the PokerStars coalition came out in support of California Assemblyman Adam Gray’s latest online poker bill, AB 2863.

This is the third letter of support for AB 2863, which has already received the blessing of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians and the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), whose chairman, Steve Stallings, also issued a statement of support earlier last week.

The full statement by the PokerStars coalition is available at the end of this column.

Statement by the PokerStars coalition contains a surprise

The coalition’s support for the bill was expected, but the joint statement also revealed that a third tribe has joined the PokerStars coalition, the United Auburn Indian Community.

Interestingly, this is the third coalition the United Auburn Indian Community has been a part of over the past year or so.

In 2014, the UAIC tribe was part of the Pechanga coalition, opposing both PokerStars and the licensing of horse racing facilities.

In early 2015, the UAIC, along with the Pala Band of Mission Indians and the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, splintered off from the group and staked out their own positions. The Rincon, Auburn, Pala (RAP) coalition’s stance on bad actor clauses and the racing industry was almost fully in line with the PokerStars coalition, so it’s not overly surprising to see UAIC make that final step and join the PokerStars coalition.

The full coalition now includes Amaya Gaming and PokerStars, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the United Auburn Indian Community, Commerce Casino, Bicycle Casino, and Hawaiian Gardens Casino.

The splintering of the RAP coalition

For the UAIC, joining with PokerStars makes a lot of sense.

While the UAIC did have a partnership in place with, the sale of to GVC likely gave the tribe an out, and it appears based on its inclusion in the letter that UAIC has decided to end the agreement and throw its lot in with PokerStars.

However, it’s unlikely the other two members of the RAP coalition will do the same.

Caesars runs the Rincon Casino, which likely means Rincon will use the online poker brand powered by 888’s software for its California online poker site.

The third member of the RAP coalition, Pala, has developed its own proprietary online poker software, which we may see unveiled in New Jersey in the not-so-distant future if rumors of the Borgata and parting ways prove correct – Pala already runs online casino software in New Jersey on the Borgata’s license.

Does UAIC shift the balance of power?

As I said in late 2014, when San Manuel left the Pechanga coalition to join forces with PokerStars, and again in 2015, when Rincon, United Auburn, and Pala, along with Caesars Entertainment, dropped their support of strict bad actor language, any change is not immaterial change as it could lead to a compromise.

But at the same time, it’s likely not consequential in terms of the power struggle in the state.

As long as Pechanga remains opposed, it’s unlikely an online poker bill can be rammed through no matter how large the Stars coalition becomes, as an online poker bill needs a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature to pass.

And as it stands, Pechanga still has at least five allies, as its most recent letter, dated February 12, 2015, was signed by six tribal chairs:

  • Chairman Jeff Grubbe, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Chairman Clifford LaChappa, Barona Band of Mission Indians
  • Chairwoman Margie Mejia, Lytton Band of Pomo Indians
  • Chairman Mark Macarro, Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians
  • Chairman Robert Welch, Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
  • Chairman Leland Kinter, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

Full statement from the PokerStars coalition

SACRAMENTO, CA – A growing coalition of tribal governments, cardrooms applauded the introduction of AB 2863, a bill to authorize and regulate iPoker in California.

The bill, authored by Assemblyman Adam Gray represents a breakthrough in the legislative logjam that has stymied efforts to pass online poker legislation for nearly a decade.

Coalition tribes and cardrooms praised Assemblyman Gray’s approach to moving online poker legislation forward. Tribal members were particularly optimistic after a February 11 meeting with Assembly Governmental Organization Committee Chair Gray Assembly GO Vice Chair Eric Linder and tribal leaders from both sides of the iPoker debate, in which everyone present agreed to move forward with iPoker legislation and begin an inclusive and transparent process that invited participation from all stakeholders.

In a letter to Asm. Gray last Friday, San Manuel chairwoman Lynn Valbuena said, “After eight years of discussion, very few issues remain outstanding…. We are optimistic that by working together we can get an iPoker bill passed this year.”

Morongo Tribal Chairman Robert Martin agreed, saying “We appreciate the work by Chairman Gray and Vice Chair Linder to bring tribal stakeholders with varying views on iPoker together for a frank and transparent discussion aimed at reaching consensus on the last few remaining issues. The bill language reflects the positive discussions we had at the Feb. 11 meeting and the agreement that we would continue working together to move iPoker forward.”

Members of the coalition reiterated its commitment to putting in the hours and time necessary to establish the framework for a vibrant, competitive marketplace this year, one that provides superior consumer protections, requires strict oversight and regulation of licensees and service providers, and ensures that the state receives a reasonable return.

The new bill would:

  • Establish a regulatory framework for Internet Poker in California
  • Create a fund to share iPoker revenues with horse tracks
  • Institute strict standards for fairness, consumer protection and revenue to the state
  • Include safeguards against underage play and problem gambling

The coalition includes major gaming tribes (Morongo Band of Mission Indians, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and the United Auburn Indian Community) and California’s three largest card clubs (Commerce Casino, Hawaiian Gardens Casino and Bicycle Casino).

The group is part of Californians for Responsible iPoker, a broad and growing coalition that also includes more than 10,000 California citizens who have signed up in support of passing internet poker legislation.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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