Steve Ruddock

The California legislature is expected to revisit online poker legalization, perhaps as early as this month, when they reconvene for the 2015-2016 session.

There are still a number of lingering issues to work out, and even though this is the sixth consecutive year California will discuss potential online poker expansion, 2015 is expected to be California’s best chance thus far to get a bill passed.

Here is a look at the known and rumored partnerships in California, as well as the entities that will likely be a part of the industry but haven’t been linked to a tribe or card room at this point.

The PokerStars Coalition

  • PokerStars – Bicycle Casino

  • PokerStars – Commerce Casino

  • PokerStars – Hawaiian Gardens

  • PokerStars – Morongo Band of Mission Indians

  • PokerStars – San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

One of the most talked about hurdles online poker faces in California centers around the inclusion of a “Bad Actor” clause in the legislation.

The reasoning behind the Bad Actor clause is for all intents and purposes to prevent PokerStars from entering the market, which it plans to do via its high-profile partnership with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Commerce Casino, Bicycle Casino, and Hawaiian Gardens Casino.

In November of 2014 the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians joined the PokerStars coalition after breaking from a 13 tribe coalition that had been opposing PokerStars.

These five entities will all use PokerStars software for their online poker rooms, and will almost certainly pool their players together, creating a strong network of sites all sharing liquidity.

The Pechanga Coalition

  • Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians – Unknown

In an interview with iGaming Business in October of 2014, Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro stated that the tribe has not made its plans known at this point, but will be ready when it’s time to go:

“… we haven’t publicized our efforts. When the time comes, we will announce our plans. Pechanga will be ready to effectively compete.”

Earlier this year we were able to independently confirm from two separate sources that the tribe has an agreement in place with Gamesys, but sources are now saying that this partnership has been scrapped.

As the spearhead for the anti-PokerStars contingent it will be interesting to see if the other tribes in the coalition that have yet to announce partnerships (see below) choose Pechanga’s eventual iGaming partner (creating a Yin to PokerStars Yang) or decide to go it alone.

  1. Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  2. Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians
  3. Lytton Band of Pomo Indians
  4. Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians
  5. Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians
  6. Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
  7. Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

To offset the impressive firepower PokerStars will bring to the market Pechanga will likely need to court several of the above listed tribes to share liquidity.

  • Pala Band of Mission Indians – Pala Interactive

A strong brand in California gaming, Pala is taking a risky step by developing their own proprietary software through their subsidiary company Pala Interactive. This is something that hasn’t worked out very well for others that have gone down that road like Ultimate Gaming or RealGaming.

While little is known about Pala Interactive’s software (the company’s website is merely a landing page at present) there are some concerns over some of the principals involved in Pala Interactive, namely CEO Jim Ryan.

Despite these lingering concerns Pala Interactive has forged ahead, partnering with Borgata in New Jersey with their online casino product. Interestingly, Pala has decided to postpone the launch of their online poker site in NJ, which was originally scheduled for early 2015.

Commenting on their New Jersey launch Ryan implied that they will be using NJ as a trial of sorts, as they set their sights on other markets. Ryan told OPR, We believe having players on our site will help us refine the user experience so that we have a strong and engaging offering as we roll out throughout the rest of the U.S.”

  • United Auburn Indian Community – bwin.party

Considering the names involved, and how few partnerships have been announced, it’s a bit surprising this partnership has flown as far under the radar as it has.

bwin.party’s national partner, MGM Resorts, has no presence in California which allowed the company to seek out a partner in the state. They settled on the UAIC.

  • Barona Band of Mission Indians/Barona Resort and Casino – Barona Free Play

Barona is another company that appears to be developing their software in-house, and has already launched the Barona Free Play online poker room.

Former PokerStars employee, Dan Goldman has been helping with the development of the software, which soft-launched in August 2014. When Barona’s software will be finished is unclear, even to the developers: “We entered final testing in August, which frankly was problematic and consumed about 50% more of my time (and Sharon’s) than expected,” Goldman wrote on his blog. “Then we launched, and that 50% became – well, a lot more than 50%.”

Goldman was recruited to help develop the poker software back in 2009 (demonstrating just how difficult developing proprietary software can be) to help promote the land based casino, but seems to have shifted to creating a comprehensive site that can support real money gaming. Whether or not Barona’s uses their free play site to offer real money games down the road is a bit unclear at this time.

  • Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians -Caesars/888

While nothing has been formally announced, it would be quite a shock to the system if the Rincon Casino, currently run by Caesars Entertainment, did not utilize their current partnership with Caesars Interactive and 888 Holdings (in both Nevada and New Jersey) in California.

One tribal free agent possibility

  • North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians – Station Casinos?

One tribe that did not sign on to the coalition of 13 tribes opposing PokerStars and their California partners was the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, and subsequent events seem to have left the tribe in limbo.

North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians were working with Station Casinos (which owns the now defunct Ultimate Gaming) to build a casino on their land that Station’s would have operated. The attempt was voted down at the ballot box this year but the tribe said it would “evaluate the various options at our disposal for moving forward,” with many feeling one of those options might be to open an online poker room and revive the Ultimate Gaming platform.

This seems more of a long-shot after Ultimate Poker folded in Nevada, but Ultimate’s (not ready for primetime) software is still out there, somewhere in the ether.

Latent card rooms

  • Hustler Casino – 50+ tables

Hustler Casino used to offer a free play online poker site on its property through Zen Entertainment. This partnership has seemingly expired.

Hustler was one of the top signatories on a letter sent to the legislature in 2014 asking for lawmakers to not overlook smaller card rooms.

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are good considering the casinos size and brand recognition.

  • Bay 101 – 30 tables

Bay 101 has a strong brand and is one of the handful of casinos in California that is virtually synonymous with poker.

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are good considering Bay 101’s history with poker, brand recognition, and longtime hosting of WPT tournaments.

  • Oceans 11 – 50 tables

A good brand (even nationally thanks to the film) and a large poker room could turn Oceans 11 into a player in the online poker market, and could make them a desirable partner for an online gaming company.

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are good.

  • Hollywood Park – 51 tables

With over 50 tables and a solid brand, Hollywood Park has what it takes to be part of California online poker, but do they want in? At this time we have no idea.

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are fair.

  • Club 1 Casino – 47 tables

Club 1 is a relatively large card room, and are a vocal presence in California gaming thanks to their owner’s (Kyle Kirkland) position of prominence with the California Gaming Association.

The CGA has been pushing for a seat at the iGaming table, which seems to indicate that a number of mid-sized card rooms are interested in getting involved with online poker.

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are fair.

Unlikely card rooms (20+ tables)

Note: Even though most of the card rooms below are unlikely to apply for an online poker license in California, depending on how the legislation is written they could conceivably be a part of the industry in some capacity, if (this is a big IF) licensees are allowed to offer multiple skins by leasing their software to other card rooms.

  • Casino M8trix – 20 tables

A cutting edge and relatively new card room in the San Diego area, Casino M8trix would seem to be a good fit for online poker, but the casino has struggled mightily since opening its doors, and is currently involved in a scandal that could preclude them from receiving an iGaming license.

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are slim.

  • Lucky Chances Casino – 29 tables

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are slim.

  • Oaks Card Club – 35 tables

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are slim.

  • California Grand Casino – 19 tables

California Grand has the distinction of being the oldest, continuously running poker room in the world, which is basically the only reason they make this list.

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are slim.

  • Normandie Casino – 24 tables

Chances to apply for an online poker license and partner with an iGaming company are slim.

iGaming companies looking for partners

In addition to the land-based gaming interests, there are also several online operators that are looking to get involved, but have not secured a partnership at this time.

Here are some of the software providers that may be part of California’s online poker industry, and may potentially partner with some of the land-based casinos and card rooms above:

  • Brown Marlin Gaming

  • HDPoker

  • Golden Nugget
  • Churchill Downs

Be sure to bookmark this page as we will update the list and partnerships as ore information becomes available.

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.