News

Online poker pact reached — but lobby fight looms

An illustration of an online poker player. (Photo: photosani)

Thirteen of California’s casino-owning tribes have agreed on a plan to legalize internet poker in California, a move that could tap an estimated $845 million market and create the nation’s largest online poker system.

One major tribe, the Banning-based Morongo Band of Mission Indians, was not a party to the agreement, following lengthy negotiations.

On Tuesday, a coalition of tribes announced their agreement on the proposal. The two bills, both introduced Feb. 21 on deadline, were merged into one piece of legislation

 

The dispute is likely to set up a major lobbying battle during the finale of this year’s legislative session.

The accord, which requires approval from Gov. Brown and the Legislature, is the culmination of more than five years of fruitless attempts, and several bills, to establish online poker in California. The latest effort represents a merging of two bills – AB 2291 by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Inglewood, and SB 1366 by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana.

Three other states – Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey – allow online poker.

On Tuesday, a coalition of tribes announced their agreement on the legislation. The two bills, both introduced Feb. 21 on deadline, were merged into one piece of legislation. The bills were AB 2291 by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Inglewood, and SB 1366 by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana.

The tribes were the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, the Pala Band of Mission Indians, the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the United Auburn Indian Community, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

Morongo’s decision to bring in PokerStars, which has an estimated 50 million subscribers, was a contentious issue with the other tribes during more than three months of intense negotiations, sources told Capitol Weekly.

The tribes, in a letter to Jones-Sawyer and Correa announcing their agreement, said that “this journey has been long and difficult, but the challenges posed by the Internet demand that we harness rather than cede the technology of the future for California and for our tribal communities.”

In “achieving consensus for Internet poker, we reaffirm our commitment to the longstanding principle of limited gaming that has guided California’s public policy toward gaming,” they added.

Earlier, Morongo had announced that in the event online poker became law in California it intended to bring the world’s largest online poker company, PokerStars, based on the Isle of Man, to help administer Morongo’s operations. The tribe also announced a business agreement with several major California card clubs – the Bicycle Club, the Commerce Club and Hawaiian Gardens.

Morongo’s decision to bring in PokerStars, which has an estimated 50 million subscribers, was a contentious issue with the other tribes during more than three months of intense negotiations, sources told Capitol Weekly.

But PokerStars, which was targeted in a 2011 federal crackdown, and its allies said the tribes were unfairly attempting to keep PokerStars and the card clubs out of the lucrative California market.

The clubs and PokerStars criticized “efforts by a select few interests to rewrite longstanding and effective policy in order to gain a competitive market advantage or to lock out specific companies is not in the best interests of consumers or the state,” coalition spokesman Brandon Castillo said in an emailed statement. The agreement “will be vigorously opposed by our coalition, online poker players and many others.”

A study commissioned by several casino-owning tribes says online gaming could result in $845 million in revenue and more than 2,600 new jobs by 2020.

The figures stem in part from an analysis of the earlier legislation that was considered – and rejected — by lawmakers. The study is available here.

In California, the nation’s largest online gaming market, attempts led by tribal interests to establish internet poker have been unsuccessful. California’s illegal online gaming market is estimated at $300 million to $400 million annually, according to the Legislative Analyst.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.

 

Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: