Morongo tribe claims 21 members for new Internet poker push

A spokesman for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians was joined by 21 tribes for a private signing ceremony they held Wednesday for a new online poker consortium.
“We have 21 tribes at this point,” said Patrick Dorinson, reached shortly after the lunchtime ceremony. “We anticipate by the end of the day we will have quite a few more.”
He added: “We have some tribes with some substantial gaming in the state.”

The tribe sent out the invitation to other tribes in a letter last Tuesday. “The ceremony is for tribes interested in becoming members of the California Intertribal Intrastate Poker Consortium. This consortium will be one of two LLCs that will be members of the California Online Poker Association (COPA).”  

It went on to say that the 18th will be the last day to join, though attendance is not mandatory to join. It also appears to state that the deadline to be a full-fledged member in the group has long passed, at least for some tribes: “Please note that the April 30, 2010 deadline for Non-Compacted Tribes to qualify for the guaranteed minimum share of the tribal LLC’s profits had not been extended.”

However, the legislature has not approved online poker in California, let alone awarded a deal to any group, and appears to be in no hurry to do so.  

The online poker concept has been playing out in the Capitol for at least three years. Former Assemblyman Lloyd Levine unsuccessfully pushed a bill in 2008. The Morongo Tribe began trying to put together a consortium of tribes a year ago.   

Sen. Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, put forward an Internet poker bill back in March. But despite his status as chair of the powerful Senate Governmental Organization Committee, which plays a key role in regulating gaming in the state, SB 1485 has stalled. On June 29, he cancelled a hearing of the bill in front of his own Committee. It hasn’t moved since.  
While estimates vary, it is widely agreed that hundreds of thousands of Californians play poker via illegal offshore websites, to the tune of $1 billion a year or more. But there is also legislation pending in Washington that could greatly affect if and how the state could license their own games.  

“While we have some disagreements with the bill, we’re hopeful that all sides can come together and do what’s best for the state,” Dorinson said late last week.

 Dorinson said the tribe is having “ongoing talks” with Wright’s staff and hopes to be one of the groups offering online gaming “when and if” it passes.

The prospect of online poker has also created massive lobbying efforts, largely from groups who oppose aspects of Wright’s bill or want to stop legislative efforts altogether.  

David Quintana, the lobbyist for the California Tribal Business Alliance, said the ceremony is much ado about nothing. His group has consistently opposed any online poker deal that would turn over an exclusive franchise to any one group, saying it would violate existing deals the state has with casino gaming tribes.

“It is a concept that will never happen, unless you believe that the Legislature will gladly hand a multi-billion dollar monopoly to a self-selected group over similarly situated entities,” Quintana said. “Assuming pigs flew and hell froze over, and it did happen, any similarly situated entity would have to be allowed to participate. It’s called the Constitution. So essentially, this is a celebration for a group that does not need to exist to participate in a concept that will never happen.”

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