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Internet Poker Bills Causes Contention Among Tribal Indians

Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, California

Indian tribes in California have a habit of supporting legalization but behind different bills.

Californian legislators are bustling about again to decide on whether or not to make Internet poker legal and a hearing is being held entitled Gambling – internet poker. However compromising is proving to be difficult with Inland gaming tribes remaining divided. The Morongo Band of Mission Indians expressed the desire to develop a partnership with PokerStars for example, while the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians doesn’t. Although both tribes support online poker, and see it as a way to extend tribal gaming revenue, they don’t see eye to eye about working with PokerStars.

Morongo also sees the legalization of internet poker as a way to bring money from illegal poker websites to websites that are legal and state-regulated. Morongo and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians are in favor of the bill introduced by Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles. The bill would permit online-poker activity for race tracks, as well as former illegal gambling companies, card rooms and tribes.

PokerStars came afoul of the US gambling laws 3 years ago

If online-poker is made legal both Morongo and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians would partner up with three of California’s largest card rooms as well as with PokerStars, a Amaya Gaming Group subsidiary. PokerStars was taken to court in 2011 by the U.S. Justice Department and a lawsuit was brought against them for money laundering and bank fraud. They were accused of infringing on the US gambling laws, by accepting wagers from Americans via foreign websites. I

In 2012, PokerStars declared themselves innocent but handed over the sum of $731 million to the US government anyway. Meanwhile, another bill is being introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale. In his bill, he plans to leave out race tracks and companies such as PokerStars. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians backs him up.

“California voters have always had the final say on gaming expansion, and they have already rejected expansion of gaming for horse racing,” says Pechanga Chairman, Mark Macarro. Macarro made reference to the 2004 ballot where voters voted against slot machines at race tracks and card clubs under certain conditions. Macarro and Jeff Grubbe from Agua Caliente, along with four other tribal leaders statewide, signed a letter in March, wherein they expressed their disapproval of the Jones-Sawyer bill.

In the letter they made reference to PokerStars and two other companies. They said that such legislation would “ease regulatory standards to accommodate actors whose past behavior and tainted brands and assets would erode the integrity of intrastate poker.” One of Morongo’s lawyer, George Forman, retorted that today’s PokerStars has changed a lot since then.

Smaller casinos balk at high license fees

Since the incident, Amaya Gaming Group had bought PokerStars, and there was a lot of restructuring so that some people involved in the lawsuits no longer work with the company. Moreover he reiterated that PokerStars was “never convicted of a crime”. PokerStars is “the pre-eminent online poker entity in the world” and has loads of poker experience, Forman said.

For months now, tribal leaders have been discussing” potential compromise language”. Just two months earlier, ahead of the delay to introduce bills, Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, and Sen. Isadore Hall, D-Compton divulged generally worded bills which permitted gamblers to play online poker in the US, particularly in California.

Call for equal opportunity for tribes regardless of size

Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Reservation
“There has to be compromise or it won’t get done,” said Robert Martin, the chairman for Morongo. Gambling operators would be required to hand over $10 million in the Jones-Sawyer legislation and $5 million in the Gatto bill to operate online US poker rooms in California. .

Of course, some smaller tribes such as Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians feel it is not fair as they wouldn’t be able to pay such large fees. Mary Resvaloso, chairwoman of the tribe said “We don’t have the funding available to enter this. If we had funding, we most likely would entertain the idea”.

The tribe already operated a small casino in the rural desert near the Salton Sea. Ernie Stevens, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, called for gambling rules to take into account the operation revenues of Internet gambling for less wealthy tribes.

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