On July 1, 2014, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel launched an online poker room in California. At first, it was designated for free play only – no real money involved – but the highly anticipated announcement came almost immediately. The online poker site, PrivateTable.com, would be converting to real money play. However, there were two things clearly missing; a start date for the roll out of real money poker, and passage of a California internet poker bill.
For the next few weeks, the Santa Ysabel spent time dispelling the numerous speculations that tribes would need to wait for California to pass an online poker bill before they can move forward with legal, real money iGaming. Letters of Support were written by reputable offshore regulators, including the Isle of Man and the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which houses the primary servers for the online poker room within the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, Canada. Martin Owens, attorney for the Santa Ysabel, gave his positive legal opinion of the endeavor. In a matter of weeks, there were no questions left to be asked. From there, the real money roll out was just a matter of time.
Last week, the announcement all California online poker players had been waiting for finally arrived. The tribe finally set a tentative launch date for the real money conversion of its internet poker room. Dave Vialpando, the Chairman of the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission said that they “will be flipping the switch on for real money gaming sometime between the 26th and 28th” of this month. That timeline is just a week away, and would make them the first tribe in the United States to boldly go where no tribe has gone before – into the realm of self-regulated, real money online gambling.
Shortly after the announcement was made, the Chairman acquiesced to an interview with Brian Pempus of Cardplayer.com. When asked how the Santa Ysabel came to the decision to go ahead with a real money online poker launch without the legislative support of a California online poker bill, Vialpando said, “It doesn’t really affect our plans. Our authority to offer class II gaming from our reservation is not prohibited by any statute.” He went on to say that they’ve been fully cooperative with government agencies, answered all questions and have no doubt that they are operating within their legal rights as per the IGRA. “Most of our regulations are public documents,” Vialpando continued, “so it’s pretty much full disclosure for us.”
The Santa Ysabel have gone so far as to form an alliance with the California Council on Problem Gambling and, as Vialpando put it, “have just put the finishing touches on what we think is a model responsible gambling program for internet gaming providers. We will be rolling that out shortly,” he said. “We are moving full speed ahead.”
The Chairman was also questioned as to why he thinks the Santa Ysabel are the first to make such a bold move when the market for online poker has been in such high demand for several years in California. He refused to speak for others, but gave his opinion of the situation, saying that he believes some tribes, especially smaller ones, don’t see online gambling “as a viable business opportunity”; but rather a potential leak in their land-based operations. Then there are some tribes, he conjectured, that would rather wait for California to pass an online poker bill, saving them the time and effort of scripting their own regulations; something it took the Santa Ysabel two years to accomplish.