About Face

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena (l.) have joined with the Morongo Band and the Commerce Club, Hawaiian Gardens Casino and Bicycle Casino in concert with Amaya Gaming, which owns PokerStars. Many other gaming tribes oppose the involvement of PokerStars, which ran afoul of the Justice Department several years ago when it allowed American residents to play poker for money online.

The opposition to the involvement of PokerStars in any online poker industry in California took a major hit last week when the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians allied with the Morongo Band and three major card clubs to welcome the site’s owner Amaya Gaming to the table.

San Manuel was one of dozens of California tribes that had opposed the entry of PokerStars into the market, even after the purchase by Amaya and the ouster of founders Isai and Mark Scheinberg. San Manuel would join the Morongo Band along with the Commerce Club, Hawaiian Gardens Casino and Bicycle Casino card rooms to operate one online poker site in the state.

Lynn Valbuena, chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said that her tribe is proud to join the team.

“We are pleased to join this coalition,” she said in a press release. “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.”

Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Martin said the addition of San Manuel would change the dynamics of the campaign to legalize online poker in California.

“We’re pleased to welcome San Manuel to our coalition,” he said. “It marks a new day in our efforts to authorize online poker in California. We’re excited about the momentum and opportunities this new agreement represents in getting legislation passed. As tribes come together on this issue, the opportunity for success grows.”

Matt Cullen, the CEO of San Manuel Digital, the tribe’s interactive arm, told OnlinePokerReport.com that the purchase of PokerStars by Amaya was the game-changer.

“Amaya is a public company that values transparency,” Cullen said, adding that the tribe is “optimistic” about passage of online poker legislation in 2015.

Keith Sharp, an attorney for the card rooms, agrees, and says they will work with the tribes to get online poker passed in California in the next legislative session.

Some observers noted the announcement came during one of the most important events on the poker calendar, the final day of the World Series of Poker, won by Martin Jacobson.