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California has been pushing for online poker regulation for years now, but no bill has ever gained enough traction to even garner a vote from legislators. Now, more than half a dozen tribes in the state believe that the possible inclusion of horse race tracks could ruin yet another year’s attempt at legalizing internet poker in the Golden State.

California tribes say horse tracks and online poker regulation don't mixThe tribes say horse tracks and online poker just don’t mix, backing up their claims with evidence that spans well over a decade. For years now, California tribes have been contractually granted exclusive rights to operating full-fledged gambling casinos in the state. Horse racing tracks are restricted to pari-mutuel betting only, while commercial gambling facilities are limited to card games like poker.

The evidence in question is supported by three attempts to expand casino style gambling to commercial operators, one in 1998, another in 2000 and the last one in 2008. Each time, citizens voted heavily against the measure. They did, however, vote in favor of a policy to prevent further expansion of gambling, and that’s become the backbone of the tribe’s argument against allowing online poker regulation to pass with horse tracks permitted to join the market.

Coalition opposed to Online Poker Regulation for Horse Tracks

The group of California tribes that oppose horse tracks in the online poker market is commonly referred to as the Pechanga Coalition, so named for its leader and the largest tribe in the mix, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. The other members of the alliance include the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

The leaders of those tribes have united in the belief that any online poker regulation that permits horse racing tracks would violate the current public policy, and go against everything voters have supported throughout the years. They are concerned that tribal gaming, which has been ultimately successful for all this time, would lose sustainability in such an expanded market.

Not all California tribes agree with the stance of the Pechanga Coalition. Mark Macarro, Chairman of the Pechanga Band, says “Tribes should be careful not to sell out to corporate interests.” He’s referring to tribes like the Morongo and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, who have partnered up with PokerStars in hopes of edging out the competition if and when the world’s largest poker operator gains approval to enter the California market.

“They need to evaluate things in regard to what is best for their tribe and, at the same time, what is best for Indian country. Does the proposal sell out principles that to tribes are important?” asked Macarro. “There are certain things we should look out for. It can’t just be about the deal. Certain things shouldn’t be negotiated.”

No Support from Pechanga = No Online Poker Regulation

With all of the state’s Indian tribes currently split on whether online poker regulation should or should not include horse racing tracks, or ‘bad actors’ with ‘tainted assets’, the Pechanga Coalition is worried that yet another year will pass without legislators supporting any iPoker bill.

As Jeff Grubbe, Chairman of the Agua Caliente put it, “No iPoker in California is the clearly preferable option” compared to giving horse tracks the right to obtain a license. The Pechanga Coalition carries more than enough political weight to influence legislation. Simply put, if they oppose any particular online poker regulation, it has virtually no chance of passing in California.

Next, we will look at the story from a different angle; from the viewpoint of tribes on the other side of the fence. Continue to Part 2 >>