Last year 13 California tribes banded together to oppose the PokerStars coalition which included the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Commerce Casino, Bicycle Casino, and Hawaiian Gardens Casino. But now in 2015 the tribal coalition appears to be cracking.
One tribe has flat out left the coalition, and two others seem willing to entertain the idea of PokerStars operating in the California online poker market.
In November 2014, the San Manuel Band of Mission of Indians jumped ship, leaving the tribal coalition and joining the PokerStars coalition.
At the time the defection of the San Manuel tribe was seen as a small win for the PokerStars coalition, but if we zoom out and look at everything that has occurred since San Manuel joined the PokerStars faction it appears less like a small singular victory, and more like the first move of a complicated gambit.
At least one, and possibly two other tribes in the tribal coalition are softening their positions on Bad Actors (more on this below), and a PokerStars (and racetrack) friendly online poker bill (AB 167) has been introduced in the California Assembly by Reggie Jones-Sawyer.
In October of 2014 I asked Jeffrey Haas, the Head of Poker at bwin.party (bwin.party has partnered with the United Auburn Indian Community) for his thoughts on PokerStars and Bad Actor clauses in California. Without trying to read too far into the short statement, Haas’s response was very similar to the language PokerStars and their allies have been using:
“This is a matter for the regulators to decide.”
The UAIC hasn’t issued a formal statement on wither AB 9 or AB 167, nor have they given an official statement on Bad Actor clauses beyond the initial letter sent by the coalition of 13 tribes last March.
The biggest movement on this front happened just this week, and it could be a game changer for California online poker efforts. .
Based on comments at the Western Indian Gaming Conference , another member of the tribal coalition seems to be moving away from the absolutist position on Bad Actor clauses, the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians – This potential development is even more interesting when you factor in Caesars is the Rincon tribe’s iGaming partner.
At the Western Indian Gaming Conference on Wednesday Stephen Hart, the chief legal counsel of the Rincon Tribe intimated that the sale of PokerStars was enough to wash away any taint of the old ownership.
Rincon: there are no bad actors anymore when the company transitions to new ownership. #wigc15
— Victor Rocha (@VictorRocha1) February 11, 2015
Rincon Chairman Bo Mazzetti, appears to agree, as he was quoted by pe.com as saying, “There’s got to be a lot of give and take on all our parts. There will be some things we don’t like.” Mazzetti feels compromise is necessary for the simple reason that the online poker bills are emergency statutes and require a 2/3 vote in the legislature.
This is a dramatic shift from their previous position, and the biggest movement on the Bad Actor front we’ve seen over the past year and a half.
It should also be noted that neither the tribe or Caesars has responded to the introduction of Reggie Jones-Sawyer online poker bill AB 167. AB 167 drew harsh criticism from the Pechanga Tribe, and the Agua Caliente, but Rincon and Caesars have been silent on the bill.
While the defection of the San Manuel Tribe in November and the apparent softening position of the Rincon and perhaps UAIC on the Bad Actor issue are notable, these actions by themselves are not going to push California across the finish line.
The powerful Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians is the driving force in the anti-PokerStars coalition, and there resolve seems as strong as ever, considering their statement against AB 167, which reads:
“There is much for tribes to dislike about this bill. [AB 167]
“We are disappointed that the bill disregards important principles from a broad coalition of respected tribes and card rooms that help prevent corporations and entities that previously violated federal law from profiting from tainted software, brands, and databases derived from illegal activity.
“Tribes have been steadfast in the principle that online poker be consistent with California’s longstanding public policy of limited gaming, and that means keeping it to just tribes and card rooms. California voters have always had the final say on gaming expansion and they have already rejected expansion of gaming for horse racing.”
However, the defection of San Manuel and the new position by Rincon leaves Pechanga out on an island of sorts. If online poker fails in 2015, and the issue holding up the process is the Bad Actor clause, the blame could land directly at the feet of Pechanga.
The scales seem to have tipped in the direction of PokerStars, but there is still a long way to go, not only on the Bad Actor front, but also in regards to racetracks.