New development breathes life into possible legalization of online poker in California

Tribal Exec Sees ‘Titanic Shift’ For California Online Poker Landscape As San Manuel Pulls Out Of PokerStars Coalition

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One of two politically powerful American Indian tribes in partnership with Amaya / PokerStars and three Los Angeles area cardrooms in an effort to legalize online poker in California announced Wednesday it has left the coalition.

San Manuel pulls out

The departure of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians from the alliance could impact the prospects of getting legalized online poker out of the California Legislature, sources said.

“This is a titanic shift in the landscape,” said a tribal executive who requested anonymity.

A decade-long effort to legalize online poker in California has been stymied by an inability of about 16 of the state’s more politically powerful tribal governments to reach consensus on bill language.

The more recent dispute among tribal officials has centered on the licensing suitability of international online giant PokerStars, which has battled regulatory issues in the United States and allegations of insider trading involving former CEO David Baazov.

Decision driven by broader stalemate

San Manuel ended its partnership with PokerStars, Morongo and the Commerce Club, Hawaiian Gardens and Bicycle Club cardrooms effective last month, Jacob Coin, the tribe’s executive director of public affairs, said in an email.

Coin said San Manuel’s involvement in online poker legislation has lasted nine years, an effort that has obviously drained tribal resources.

“Because this effort has taken so long and required so much tribal effort and attention … San Manuel has decided to turn to other tribal issues at this time and has thus terminated its participation in the coalition,” Coin said. 

“San Manuel wishes every success to the remaining coalition members and appreciates the fine and effective working relationship it has had with all of them. No inferences of any kind should be drawn from its decision to withdraw from the coalition.”

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Morongo, still in?

San Manuel’s exit leaves the Morongo Band of Mission Indians as the only tribe lobbying for PokerStars’ involvement in a statewide industry.

Recent federal investigations of the Bicycle Club and Hawaiian Gardens cardrooms also weakens the coalition’s political clout.

“Three-fifths of that coalition has had serious legal issues,” said a tribal source. “It’s good to see San Manuel extricate itself from that disaster.”

Morongo tribal officials and PokerStars executives could not be immediately reached for comment.

How does San Manuel’s exit change the equation?

It is not clear what, if any, impact San Manuel’s departure from the coalition will have on efforts to legalize online poker this legislative session.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who this spring introduced the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act (AB 1677), does not anticipate the legislation gaining much traction this year following an acrimonious debate in the last session.

“Obviously, we’re not going to put anything across the desk now,” Jones-Sawyer told Online Poker Report.

“I don’t want to sound like a minister or psychologist, but we’ve got to start from ground zero where we’ve got to at least get people to want to try to get it done again.”

There have been no recent efforts by tribal leaders to mediate their differences on PokerStars and other issues.

“I should not comment on this for now,” said Steve Stallings, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.

“We’re going to decline to comment,” said Jacob Mejia, director of public affairs for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.

Pechanga, along with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, has led a group of tribes seeking restrictions on PokerStars licensure.  


- 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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