The prospects for California online poker were bolstered this week, following the defection of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians from a coalition of tribal gaming operators fighting to prevent online poker giant PokerStars from entering a future market.
The tribal coalition, which until this week included all of California’s tribal operators except for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, was formed last June, and vowed to “vigorously oppose” any attempt by a so-called “bad actor,” such as PokerStars, from participating in a post-regulation online poker space in the state.
Joining the Morongo band, and now the San Manuel band, on the supportive side are the state’s largest poker clubs: the Commerce, the Bike and the Hawaiian Gardens.
The defection suggests that the tide is turning in the favor of PokerStars. Two previous draft bills, sponsored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Lou Correa, respectively, were unstinting in their bad actor language, leaving no room for the company’s involvement in a regulated market, and as such were supported by the tribal coalition.
However, both bills were shelved at the end of the last legislative session, largely due to all the stakeholders’ inability to agree on the language of the bill.
Jones-Sawyer has said wants to get a new bill up and running as soon as possible for the 2015/16 session and is anxious to avoid the divisive issues that stalled his previous effort. That suggests there will be some kind of renegotiation of the bad actor clause, which in previous incarnations was “non-severable.”
Meanwhile, San Manuel will work together with Morongo, PokerStars, and the land-based poker clubs to create an online poker site which it hopes can be launched when more favorable legislation is passed.
“We are pleased to join this coalition,” said San Manuel ChairwomanÂ Lynn Valbuena. “We are convinced that the various interests must work together if we are to be successful in establishing a well-regulated environment and the best-in-class Internet poker industry for California.”
Group Business Development Director for PokerStars Guy Templer added: “San Manuel is a strong, forward-thinking operator and is a great partner to join our coalition in advocating for the development of an open and well regulated iPoker market in California. We are looking forward to working with the Legislature and with other stakeholders to help develop an industry that will benefit California consumers and the state alike.”
Meanwhile, Morongo ChairmanÂ Robert MartinÂ hinted that more defections would be welcomed. “It marks a new day in our efforts to authorize online poker in California,” he said. “We’re excited about the momentum and opportunities this new agreement represents in getting legislation passed. As tribes come together on this issue, the opportunity for success grows.”