The battle to get online poker regulated in California has been a long one, dating back more than 5 years, well before the US Department of Justice reversed their opinion of the Wire Act, giving individual states the right to regulate online gambling. A difference of opinion between interested parties has resulted in an indestructible brick wall that has prevented the state from moving ahead with legal online poker. However, an unlikely alliance has formed that could shift the tides in favor of a regulated market that would include PokerStars.
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians had long supported a California online poker bill designed to prohibit the world’s largest online poker operator, PokerStars, from participating in the Sunshine State’s future internet gaming market. In a surprise turn of events, San Manuel has abandoned its previous alliance and philosophies, joining the PokerStars coalition that includes the Morongo Tribe and the three largest card rooms in California, Bicycle Casino, Commerce Club and Hawaiian Gardens.
In March of this year, San Manuel joined eleven other area tribes, led by Pechanga, in signing a letter that condemned the potential presence of PokerStars in California. The letter affirmed their “steadfast opposition to the easing of regulatory standards that would accommodate bad actors whose past behavior and tainted brands and assets would erode the integrity of Intrastate Internet poker under consideration.”
According to Chris Krafcik, Director of Research for Gambling Compliance, San Manuel’s shift in alliances isn’t going to make any difference in terms of regulating online poker in California. Krafcik equated the situation to the laws of physics, saying “2 equal forces (Morongo-San Manuel group, Pechanga group) pushing same object (#iPoker) in opposite directions = no movement.”
While Krafcik makes a viable point, San Manuel’s conversion on the issue does have positive implications for PokerStars. There were originally 12 tribes pushing for a bad actors clause to exclude the online poker giant, and now that San Manuel has switched sides, it’s possible that other tribes could follow suit. It also implies California’s tribes may not be as obstinate on the issue of reducing the restrictive nature of a bad actors clause as they once seemed to be.
The reality of the situation won’t surface until next month, when California’s lawmakers reconvene in December to kick-off the 2015-16 legislative session. Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer is expected to introduce the latest version of his online poker bill at the first opportunity; a bill that favors the introduction of PokerStars in an intrastate online poker market.
The new partnership between Amaya Gaming (owner of PokerStars parent company, Rational Group), San Manuel, Morongo, Bicycle Casino, Commerce Club and Hawaiian Gardens is a solid one that would benefit all involved. If Jones-Sawyer’s online poker bill succeeds in California, each of the tribes and commercial card rooms would unite to offer an intrastate poker site powered by the leading internet poker provider in the world, PokerStars.
“We are pleased to join this coalition,” remarked San Manuel Chairwoman, Lynn Valbuena. “We are convinced that the various interests must work together if we are to be successful in establishing a well-regulated environment and the best-in-class Internet poker industry for California.” Spokespersons on behalf of each alliance member mirrored those sentiments when the announcement was made on Tuesday.