California Tribes Supporting Online Poker Have Separated into Three Camps

California flag San FranciscoUnified tribal support of a California online poker bill remains elusive, according to Dave Palermo at

While more than a dozen tribes had backed an Internet poker bill floated last year, only three groups are still lobbying for iGaming legislation. The three factions include the Pechanga/Agua tribe, the San Manuel/Morongo band, and a final group consisting of the Pala, United Auburn and Rincon tribes.

Palermo believes that the disappointing numbers posted by Internet gambling operators in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey have given tribes less of an incentive to make the hefty investment which online poker will require.

Two sticking points have still not been resolved amongst stakeholders: the inclusion of horse racing tracks and bad actor language.

“We’re more focused this year on what needs to get resolved,” said a tribal leader who requested to remain anonymous. “If we can get passed racetracks and tainted assets, yes, it can get done. But that’s a big hurdle. It’s been a very slow discussion at this point.”

The debate amongst tribes could heat up soon, as tribal leaders are scheduled to meet for the Western Indian Gaming Association conference next week.

Tribes choose sides

The Pechanga/Agua coalition is keen to keep the horse racing tracks and PokerStars out of the iPoker industry. The group has pushed for bad actor language which would block Stars, along with any other site which operated in the state after the UIGEA was passed.

Agua Caliente Chairman Jeff Grubbe has stated that the tribe would choose no Internet gambling if bad actors and racetracks allowed to set up shop. Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro echoed those statements saying, “We’re not doing i-poker in a vacuum. There’s a public policy that not only can’t be ignored, it has to be addressed.”

The San Manuel and Morongo tribes, along with three of California’s biggest cardrooms, have formed an alliance with PokerStars, and want bad actor language removed from any Internet poker legislation. The group supports AB 167, a bill introduced by Assemblyman Reginald-Jones Sawyer which includes no bad actor clause and provides the company with a path towards regulation.

Mike Gatto has floated his own bill, AB 9, which includes bad actor verbiage meant to block PokerStars. The gaming giant has spoken out in opposition to the legislation, calling it a rehash of a bill introduced last year. “I talk to my friends with the tribes who remind me they have in the California constitution an exclusive right to operate many different kinds of gaming,” said Gatto.

The final group is comprised of the Pala, United Auburn, and Rincon tribes, which are “keeping an eye” on bad actor developments. Pala and Rincon have partnered with and Caesar’s Entertainment respectively to offer online poker. Rincon Councilman Steve Stallings thinks that bad actor language will be less of a barrier than the issue of the horse tracks.

“Some tribes have pretty strong views about the expansion of gaming beyond the card rooms and the tribes,” said Stallings.