California Internet Poker Bill Opposed By Morongo, Card Clubs

The Morongo Band and their card club allies insist that their partner PokerStars be allowed to participate in any online poker in California. Card club spokesman Keith Sharp (l.) explains why they are preventing the legislature from passing the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2014 that would legalize the game in the Golden State.

One major gaming tribe, the Morongo Band, remains opposed to an online poker bill, the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2014, which the other major tribes have thrown their support behind.

The Morongos, a tribe in Southern California, oppose the most recent bill because it would ban their partner, PokerStars from participating through a “bad actor” clause, as previous bills have done. And while things have changed with this week’s sale of PokerStars, it’s unclear how this would affect the California iPoker bill.

The Morongos and its consortium that, besides PokerStars, also includes several large card clubs, last week issued a statement that said, “We strongly oppose the so-called ‘bad actor’ language that is nothing other than a blatant attempt to provide certain interests with unfair competitive advantage by arbitrarily locking out trusted brands. We will vigorously oppose any legislation that includes this language.”

So, despite some optimistic language from 13 gaming tribes about a “consensus” and talk of a bill passing in Sacramento by August, the two sides are as intransigent as ever.

Some opposing sides have patched up their differences, including Pechanga and San Manuel, who were originally supporters of competing bills.  However, the bad actor clause remains the chicken bone in the throat of passage.

PokerStars is the largest online poker site in the world, and many industry experts see not including them as being the makings of an unsuccessful rollout.

At attorney who represents several card clubs, including the Commerce Club, Hawaiian Gardens and the Bicycle Casino, Keith Sharp, told Pokernews last week, “We were hopeful when we heard discussions were going on that we would see something come out that advanced the ball, but it didn’t happen. The language didn’t substantively change. It’s still the PokerStars-centric bad actor language, and we’re disappointed they apparently don’t want to engage in meaningful dialogue on that issue. They just want to keep PokerStars out, and that’s clear.”

The “bad actor” clause locks out any provider that allowed Americans to play on its site after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was passed. PokerStars is such a provider. The U.S. Justice Department prosecuted its executives in 2011 and PokerStars agreed to pay $731 million without admitting any wrongdoing. It continues to operate successfully outside of the U.S.

Three other states offer internet poker. None of them have “bad actor” clauses; although New Jersey’s gaming commission has so far not allowed PokerStars to have a license.

“This seems to be an issue that has folks dug in,” said Sharp. “We’re certainly not going to budge. We just think it’s so obvious the reason that language is there is centered on PokerStars. We’re hoping we can have dialogue with the tribes about a way to address this and perhaps convince them, as in New Jersey, to allow regulators to do the job.”

Sharp notes that the Morongo tribe also does not want to prevent the state’s racetracks from participating in internet poker.

The “bad actor” clause appears to be the only remaining “deal breaker,” in passage of a poker bill, say political observers.

The 2014 legislative year ends on August 31. Any deal will have to be worked out before then.

A study commissioned by several gaming tribes recently concluded that internet poker could generate $845 million in revenue annually, and eventually create 2,600 jobs.