Marty Derbyshire

The Native American tribe that owns and operates Thunder Valley Casino Resort has struck a deal with casino and gaming giant MGM Resorts International and online gambling leader GVC Holdings to run online poker, online casino games, and retail and mobile sports betting. This will come to fruition if and when any of it is permitted by California law.

Under the terms of the deal, MGM GVC Interactive LLC will provide the brands and technology that allows the United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC) to offer a full suite of online gambling and retail sports betting products at Thunder Valley, once it’s legal to do so. Presumably, UAIC will provide the California online gambling and sports betting licenses.

UAIC Chairman Gene Whitehouse said the deal is all about possibilities:

“It is not yet clear if California will authorize sports betting or interactive games generally, but with the overturn of PASPA possibly opening the door for sports betting, our Tribe wants to be well-situated, and this agreement with the national leader in the field does just that.”

MGM President of Interactive Gaming Scott Butera said the agreement marks MGM’s first with a Native American partner.

GVC Director of Corporate Development and Strategy Adam Greenblatt said the company has always admired the success of Thunder Valley Casino Resort. Now, he says GVC is looking forward to adding to that success:

“The potential of this partnership is significant for MGM-GVC.”

MGM and GVC

MGM and GVC just inked a 50/50 joint venture to create a US sports betting and online gaming platform at the end of July.

Of course, UAIC is no stranger to GVC and online poker deals. It entered into a formal agreement with bwin.party in 2012 to offer online poker services in California once it becomes legal. GVC acquired bwin.party in 2017.

At the time, UAIC Tribal Chairman David Keyser said online poker was surely coming soon:

“We see the legalization of Internet poker and other Internet gaming as being inevitable. Having met with representatives from a number of different online gaming companies, bwin.party was our first choice as partner. With its unrivaled expertise in online poker, proven technology and player loyalty we are confident of being able to maximize the revenue opportunity from a regulated online poker market in California and to continue to enhance the long-term prosperity of our community.

Poker at Thunder Valley Casino Resort

Thunder Valley Casino Resort opened in June 2003 just outside Sacramento. The property features a 270,000-square-foot casino. Inside, gamblers will find over 3,400 slots, 100 table games, and a live poker room with space for 450.

In recent years, the poker room has come to host some of the biggest poker tours in the US. This includes the World Poker Tour, WPT Deepstacks, and World Series of Poker Circuit.

California lawmakers came relatively close to legalizing and regulating online poker in 2016. However, California online poker legislation stalled when a battle over operator suitability emerged.

Lawmakers and stakeholders have spent the past two years fighting over whether commercial cardrooms, Native American casinos, horse racing facilities, or global online poker operators that accepted US customers after federal laws were put in place to try to stop it, namely PokerStars, should be allowed to become online poker operators in California. The issue remains unsolved.

Sports betting in California

In 2017, a California lawmaker introduced a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting pending a change in federal law. A citizens group called Californians for Sports Betting is pushing for something similar.

That change in federal law came in May. Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, and West Virginia have all launched legal sports betting since then. Several other states are lining up to do the same.

However, sports betting is stumbling over the same operator suitability issues that have plagued online poker in California. Native American gaming tribes are fighting to hold on to the monopoly they enjoy on casino gaming. Commercial cardrooms appear to want to expand gambling any way they can.

Editorial credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

Marty Derbyshire
Marty Derbyshire - Martin Derbyshire is a veteran of the world of poker and gambling, having worked as a reporter, producer, and editor in the industry for more than a decade. He has traveled the globe interviewing high-profile personalities and contributes to a number of publications, including USPoker.com, PlayCA.com, and PlayNJ.com.