Steve Ruddock debating CA online poker legalization

The launch of a radio ad campaign by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians would seem to indicate the consensus California lawmakers and gaming interests have been calling for is nowhere in sight.

The Viejas ad runs a full minute and refers to PokerStars as “Internet scam artists and con men” and says that Californians should be protected from “corrupt companies like PokerStars.” The ad calls on Californians to contact their representatives and let them knows they oppose PokerStars.

This call to action by Viejas is just one of many currently taking place in California as lobbying efforts have picked up in recent weeks, including an editorial in the LA Times.

The ad’s case is pretty thin

The ad details PokerStars’ indictments following the Department of Justice’s Black Friday crackdown, including the payment of $731 million to the DOJ “to avoid criminal conviction.”

However, the ad doesn’t mention that a significant amount of that money was used to purchase Full Tilt Poker and repay Full Tilt’s former customers, nor does it mention that as part of the settlement PokerStars, admitted to no wrongdoing.

As PokerStars noted at the time:

“The agreement explicitly permits PokerStars to apply to relevant U.S. gaming authorities, under both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker brands, to offer real money online poker when State or Federal governments introduce a framework to regulate such activity.”

The ad also takes a swipe at PokerStars’ new owners, Amaya Gaming, and the ongoing investigation into potential securities laws violations in the lead up to the purchase of PokerStars.

This is a continuing investigation and is not out of the ordinary, considering the scope of the deal and the volatile stock prices in the lead up to the sale.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the ad is its use of anti-online gambling fear mongering, telling listeners that PokerStars is lobbying the state legislature to participate in online poker in California, which would give them “access to every computer, tablet and smartphone in the state.”

If you favor online poker legalization, this last attack line seems like a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

The Pechanga coalition may be getting nervous

While it’s more of the same, the attack ad is seen as taking the fight to the next level.

Furthermore, the negativity and what I’ll call lies by omission of the ad may signal something else is afoot, as politicians, tribal or otherwise, tend to stay away from negative ads of this nature.

Several people have pointed the tendency of this strategy to backfire:

The general consensus in California is an online poker bill cannot pass without the support of the Pechanga coalition, Morongo coalition, and racing.

However, there has been a notable increase in the rhetoric challenging this assumption. Some have called for racing and the Morongo coalition to steamroll a bill over the objections of Pechanga and its allies, testing the political clout of the tribes involved.

Most people laugh at this prospect, but this doesn’t rule out a potential showdown over AB 431 down the road.

As Chris Grove noted, the Pechanga coalition was consistently tagged with the “obstructionist” label at the recent California Gambling Conference.

Perhaps the slow but steady movement of AB 431 through the legislature, over the objection of the Pechanga coalition, is causing consternation among its ranks.

Recently, the coalition of nine tribes led by Pechanga shifted its position on Adam Gray’s AB 431 online poker bill from neutral back to its previous position of opposed without any alteration to the bill itself.

The change came after the bill unanimously passed the Assembly Governmental Oversight Committee and just prior to the bill being voted on in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Despite the full throated opposition, the bill cleared the Appropriations Committee and is now eligible to be voted on by the full Assembly.

Is it worth it?

If the Viejas and its allies felt they could stop AB 431 simply by pulling their support, the PokerStars attack ad seems like an unnecessary risk.

On the other hand, it’s politics, so there aren’t any guarantees. With that in mind, perhaps the attack ad by Viejas isn’t a sign of anxiety, but simply a matter of the tribe and its allies taking no chances.

Steve Ruddock
Steve Ruddock - Steve is one of the most recognizable names in the online poker media space. He brings his deep knowledge and equally deep well of opinions to his coverage at CaliforniaOnlinePoker.com.