Will California Have In-State Online Poker?

by Lou on August 18, 2009

California’s Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians, which owns the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa (pictured left) just west of Palm Springs, is spearheading an effort to enact legislation that would allow Californians to play poker online, thus legalizing Intranet poker in the Golden State.

The tribe argues that online poker in California will generate much-needed revenue for the cash-starved state, while providing far superior protection for players than the current level of protection offered by unregulated, offshore sites.

Under the proposal, the Morongo tribe and others would run a joint venture online poker operation with several Los Angeles-area card clubs. The state would get a percentage of the winnings, though the exact amount has yet to be determined.

Money Always Talks, But in a Bad Economy it Shouts!

“It’s a way to head off competition,” said Morongo spokesman Patrick Dorinson to the Desert Sun newspaper. He added, “This would be a game for Californians run by Californians. In a state strapped for cash, this will definitely bring in revenue.”

Morongo hooked up with the Commerce Casino and other tribes to form a new group—the “California Tribal Intrastate Internet Poker Consortium LLC.”

Some California Tribes Favor it. Some Don’t. Others Straddle the Fence

But rival tribes say this endeavor could jeopardize tribal gambling in California. Morongo’s proposal squares them off against other tribes, specifically those holding membership in the California Tribal Business Alliance (CTBA). Some other tribes have taken a wait-and-see neutral stance, at least for the time being.

The Viejas Band of Mission Indians, which owns a casino just east of San Diego, opposes it—as do other San Diego tribes, such as the Pala and Pauma Bands of Mission Indians. Tribes in the Palm Springs area are neutral. The Desert Sun quotes Alva Johnson, director of government affairs and public relations for Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, as saying, “We are still studying the proposal and do not have a position at this time.”

Michael Lombardi, of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, expressed his neutrality, although he added, “We’re opposed to widespread Internet gaming” put under the control of the U.S. Treasury, as proposed at the federal level.
The Governor Hasn’t Taken a Position … Yet
While the tribes are lining up on all sides of the fence, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the matter, and it’s probably a little early for him to stake out a position. After all, the bill that would make this happen is still underdevelopment and has not yet found a sponsor to introduce it when California’s legislature returns from their summer recess in a few days.

In a blog post four days ago I mentioned that Robert H. Smith, Chairman of the California Tribal Business Alliance, a lobbying group representing seven member tribes, wrote to members of the California Legislature, saying, “While there is no bill on the subject currently, we expect a proposal to surface shortly that will allow card clubs and California Indian tribes the exclusive right to operate an internet card game gambling web site.”His letter added, “Card game gambling on the internet would take business away from brick and mortar casinos. Card clubs and casinos provide jobs and tax revenue for the local communities where they are located. Online wagering does not.”

The Law Does Not Prohibit Intrastate Online Gaming

When Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006 and prohibited banks and credit card companies from transferring money for Internet gambling, they left the door open for states to allow online gambling within a state’s boundaries.

George Forman, a lawyer working with the Morongo tribal council to draft this legislation, said there is nothing in federal law that prohibits a tribe from participating in state-authorized gaming outside the tribe’s Indian lands. According to Forman, “The Sault Ste. Marie tribe in Michigan did just that when it bought an interest in Greektown Casino in Detroit.”

Morongo spokesman Patrick Dorinson has said that the bill will provide a cleaner, safer version of what is now a business run by unregulated foreign operators.

Some Tribes Claim This Law Violates a Promise Made by the Tribes to the People of California
Nevertheless, David Quintana, the legislative director for the California Tribal Business Alliance, said that allowing Internet poker in California would violate a promise tribes made to voters to keep gambling within Indian reservations. “This opens up gambling anywhere,” he said. “There’s no tie to Indian land, and that’s not what we promised voters in the state of California.”

With no official legislation, not even an author for the bill—only a lot of drafts floating around—and the legislature not yet back in session, it’s far too early to predict how this will wind up. But if a bill is introduced that gains traction in California’s legislature, look for a lot of fighting between the tribes lining up in support of this bill and those standing in opposition.

Follow the Money
We’ll keep you apprised as this begins to sort itself out. As is the case with a lot of gambling legislation, the best way to figure things out is to follow the money.

{ 1 comment }

iloveberlin.jenny August 18, 2009 at 10:19 am

oh, very interesting

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