California has been debating the legalization of online poker perhaps longer than any other US state. Attempts to pass iGaming regulations date back to 2007, but incongruous opinions between all parties – namely tribal casinos, commercial casinos and horse racing facilities – have thwarted every attempt. Now many years down the road, those same parties are growing weary of the sequential delays, and one California tribe, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, has chosen to wait no more.
On July 1, the Santa Ysabel took its online poker room, PrivateTable.com, live throughout the state of California. For the moment, only play-money tables are on the lobby menu, but that is expected to change in the very near future. The general consensus is that the tribe would wait just long enough to absorb the backlash from state and federal offices as their commercial competition throws a brief tantrum. If nothing arises to legally prevent the sovereign nation from going ahead with a real money online poker room in California, the proverbial switch would be flipped.
Now several weeks later, the Santa Ysabel have been met with no viable threat of legal recourse and the operator’s attorney, Martin Owens, has spoken on behalf of the tribe’s interactive gaming venture. According to Owens, an expert in gaming law, the Santa Ysabel have every right to launch an online poker site for real money. He says that certain laws must be followed in order to stay in line with state and federal code, but that the tribe has stuck to that straight and narrow path every step of the way.
“If an Indian tribe has land of its own and wants to offer Class II gambling,” said Owens, “they don’t have to consult state law at all.” With a Class II license, basic games like poker are permitted on tribal territory. The Santa Ysabel have done one better, possessing a Class III license that authorizes all banked gambling services.
The next big question in terms of legality was the location of the server. Federal law states that all internet wagering activities occur at the location of the server. All bets, all outcomes, all payments, etc., they are all said to inaugurate from the server. PrivateTable is licensed by the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission as well as the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which houses the online poker room’s primary servers on its own tribal lands in the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, Canada. The secondary servers are located on the Santa Ysabel’s own reservation in San Diego County, California.
The tribe’s rights to operate a real money poker site have already been recognized by two highly respected, longtime regulators of online gambling. Letters of support were received from Dean Montour, the Chairman of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, as well as Peter Greenhill, the CEO of e-Gaming Development in the Isle of Man.
According to Owens, there is nothing illegal about the situation. The attorney said the only viable opposition will be fueled by their competitors in California. “There are some really deep-seated rivalries,” he explained, referring to the near 90 commercial gambling operators and more than 100 tribes who carry federal gambling licenses in the Golden State. “There are too many people whose main interest is making sure that someone else doesn’t get a chance.”