Tribal Unity Makes Online Poker Likely in California

A once contentious debate among the various California tribes has long worked against any agreement to legalize online gaming. This year, most of the tribes are united in requesting that the state act on the legalization of online poker. The wild cards are the card rooms and the racetracks.

Once the most powerful California gaming tribes were against internet poker. Now seven of the top gaming tribes in the Golden State have changed their stance, making it likely that some form of online gaming will be adopted by the legislature this year—or next.

Many industry experts point to California as the state that will cause other states to fall into line because it has the largest population. Three states currently offer internet poker: New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware.

The gaming tribes have a monopoly on casino gaming, although there are dozens of commercial cardrooms that predate the establishment of tribal gaming that contest that monopoly.

Several speakers before key legislative committees have said the gaming tribes will support online gaming only if their casinos are the vendors. Since gaming tribes are the second-most powerful lobbying group in the state, after public employee unions, the unified stance of the seven most influential tribes gives them considerable clout with lawmakers.

But there is powerful opposition, led by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who opposes online gaming anywhere in the country, and has deployed some major lobbyists in Sacramento to defeat the bill.

Another major factor in the discussion of legalization is whether the “bad actor” PokerStars will be allowed to participate. PokerStars operates the largest online poker vendor in the world, but ran afoul of federal laws several years ago when the Justice Department accused it of running illegal online poker operations in the U.S.

Nevertheless, PokerStars has formed a partnership with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which has one of California’s largest casinos. This powerful combination is not viewed favorable by other gaming tribes, who say it would make it hard for them to compete. They want any bill that legalizes online gaming to have a “bad actor” clause that would effectively block PokerStars.

And the tribes have been unified with the card rooms this year, as well. But sources tell GGB News that some of the tribes have become less enamored with them as it appears that some of the card room owners are themselves bad actors.

At the same time, the once-powerful racing industry has been trying to elbow its way into the discussion, but the days that the tracks had millions of dollars to contribute to candidates is long gone, diminishing their power. The closing of the Hollywood Park racing schedule last year is an indication of how weak the racetracks have become.

So the stage is set for online poker in California, the only question being what form it will take.