The topic of online poker has been exploding across California’s headlines for a few years now, but never so much as it has this summer. Legalization and regulation of internet poker has been debated rigorously in the state, but when the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel launched an online poker room two months ago, announcing that real-money gaming would hit the virtual tables in the near future, it was a real head turner. That launch was scheduled to occur this week, but according to the tribe, initiation of the real money poker site has been delayed indefinitely.
Santa Ysabel’s poker site, PrivateTable.com, first went live on July 1st. It is licensed and regulated by the immensely reputable Kahnawake Gaming Commission of Canada, as well as their own California-based Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission. The intention to offer real money online poker was never a secret, slated to occur in the first week of September, nor was it a worry for the tribe in terms of legal ramifications. Although online poker has not yet been legalized in California, the tribe says it has every right to go ahead with real money online poker per the context of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) – the same federal act that gives them the sovereign right to operate land-based casinos without the state’s authorization.
The reason for the delay, and lack of a new tentative launch date, was described in an email to PokerUpdate from a representative of the poker site, who said, “We are making the final preparations. We are still double and triple checking everything and until that is all done we are not setting a date.”
Many industry analysts are speculating that the Santa Ysabel are still unsure of whether they have the legal authority to launch a real money online poker room in California. According to Dave Vialpando, the Chairman of the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission, that issue was long since clarified. And the simple fact that no state or federal authority has stood up and said, ‘wait a second, you can’t do that…’ is good reason to believe that the tribe could, in fact, have every right to run a tribal online poker site in the Golden State.
Realistically, when looking at how long it took other jurisdictions like Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey to build, test and approve the software, geo-location systems and other aspects that make ring-fenced, real money online poker work, it makes sense that the tribe’s testing phase is taking longer than expected. If PrivateTable were to launch real money offerings prematurely and, due to lack of preparation, incidentally breech any viable laws in the process, it would give the state government all the ammunition they need to shut down the tribal online poker site. Essentially, it would not be worth the risk if the systems aren’t quite ready.
If the Santa Ysabel succeed in launching a real money online poker site as per the IGRA, it could have a profound ripple effect on the iGaming industry across the United States. A plethora of tribes could follow suit, launching online poker and casino websites in states where internet gambling is not, and may never be, a state-regulated activity. If the Iipay Nation’s efforts fail, however, the long term effects will surely be just as profound, but in the opposite direction. Suffice to say, there is a massive weight on the shoulders of the Santa Ysabel to do it right on the first attempt.