PokerStars' California Partners Have Other Options If They Decide A Breakup Is In Order

PokerStars Is Feeling The California Heat In The Wake Of Amaya Insider Trading Charges

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To the surprise of no one, the insider trading charges filed by Canadian regulators against former Amaya CEO David Baazov (Baazov has taken a voluntary leave of absence from his position as CEO and Chairman of the Board) are already having a negative impact on efforts to pass an online poker bill in California, and based on some of the comments coming out of the Golden State, it could lead to a major shakeup among the coalitions that have formed between certain stakeholders.

The situation PokerStars is now facing has bolstered the company’s detractors, evidenced by tribal lobbyist David Quintana’s statement to veteran California gaming reporter Dave Palermo, in which Quintana said, “Now they [Amaya/PokerStars] are even dirtier than we thought they were.”

But an even more shocking development than the schadenfreude PokerStars opponents are engaging in is the wedge that appears to be forming between PokerStars and its previously ironclad coalition of California card rooms and tribes.

As was first reported by Palermo, Lynn Valbuena, the chair of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians (a PokerStars-allied tribe), was quoted as saying, “San Manuel has deep concerns about these latest Amaya revelations” at a meeting between tribal leaders and Assemblyman Adam Gray. “Our council is looking into this and we will get back to all of you.”

According to Palermo’s reporting, the statements caught the other members of the PokerStars coalition – the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the United Auburn Indian Community, the Bicycle Casino, Commerce Casino, and Hawaiian Gardens Casino – by surprise.

Is the coalition in danger of dissolution?

Before diving any deeper down this rabbit hole, other than Valbuena’s “deep concerns” comment, there is no indication the coalition is on shaky footing. With that caveat aside, PokerStars has been taking lump after lump of late, and its partners may be rethinking the obvious upside of pairing up with PokerStars against the negative aspects (real or imagined) the company has swirling around it.

On the one hand, Stars topped the New Jersey online poker market just days after launching, but on the other hand, the company’s past (the genesis for the clarion calls for bad actor language coming out of some camps), coupled with the current charges against its former CEO, hang around the company’s neck like an albatross.

Add in the ill will effusing from the professional online poker community towards Stars, and the once irreproachable company is suddenly a somewhat toxic entity. The very mention of PokerStars now causes sneers and scowls to form on the faces of many professional players.

With all of this going on, at least some of the members of the PokerStars coalition are likely weighing the pros and cons of their partnership.

If the coalition were to be dissolved it would be a crushing blow, but it could also radically alter the legislative landscape, removing one of the key barriers that has been preventing a bill from being passed over the past three years, the stalemate over bad actor clauses.

With PokerStars out of the picture, California’s varied gaming interests would likely reach a consensus – on this single issue at least – and add bad actor language to the bill.

However, things are never that simple.

PokerStars is far and away the best at what it does, and there has been a lot of time and energy expended by the members of the PokerStars coalition. The coalition would likely need to have a viable alternative partner lined up before deciding to leave Stars standing at the proverbial altar.

Where else could coalition members turn?

There are several contingency plans PokerStars’ current brick and mortar partners could implement if they think the situation with PokerStars is untenable and decide to move on from the company.

The safe play

First there is 888.

In California, 888 is formally partnered with the Bay 101 Casino, and informally partnered with the Rincon Tribe, whose casino is run by 888’s iGaming partner in Nevada and New Jersey, Caesars Entertainment.

888 is a proven product in U.S. online poker markets, and with a framework of operators that already includes two solid California brands, Rincon ( and Bay 101, they could be a very appealing alternative for some of the tribes and card rooms currently aligned with PokerStars.

888 has also launched an intrastate network in New Jersey, and an interstate network between Nevada and Delaware, which would likely help it sell its wares to other operators.

If liquidity is in fact king in the online poker world, 888 seems like the best option.

Tribal unity

There is also Pala.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians isn’t formally in the PokerStars coalition, but it is closely aligned with the members of the Stars coalition on the key issues.

The company has built its own online poker platform in-house over the past few years, and could act as a supplier of sorts to some or all of PokerStars’ current allies in California if they choose to go in another direction, particularly the tribes in the coalition.

Down, but not out

A third, but less likely option would be

With the sale of to GVC Holdings creating an air of uncertainty around the company’s U.S. online gaming plans, the United Auburn Indian Community formally joined the PokerStars coalition in February, effectively ending its longstanding partnership with

Still, has a good track record in New Jersey, and a lot of experience on the online poker front.

The new kid in town

Another possible platform partner is Gamesys.

Gamesys is one of the leading online casino platform providers in the world (it currently operates Tropicana’s very successful online casino platform in New Jersey) and the company has recently introduced the first part of its long-awaited online poker platform in the UK, launching Wild Seat Poker earlier this month. Wild Seat Poker is a jackpot style Sit & Go game similar to PokerStars Spin & Go tournaments.

Also of note, rumors last year linked Gamesys to the Pechanga tribe, but this has never been confirmed and the rumors have since died out.

Turning to the horseracing industry

Another long shot possibility is Churchill Downs.

The racing giant is currently partnered with two card rooms in California, Oceans 11 and Crystal Casino. But even more so than Pala (which has an online casino and online bingo site in New Jersey it can point to), Churchill Downs’ real money gaming platform is virtually unknown and untested.

Churchill Downs Interactive (CDI) would likely be a more appealing option to the card rooms in the PokerStars coalition – Bicycle Casino, Commerce Casino, and Hawaiian Gardens – considering the longstanding animosities that exist between tribes and the horse racing industry.

Image credit: Joseph Sohm /

- 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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