California Tribe Bypasses State Law to Launch Online Poker

July 15th, 2014 | by Greg Shaun
In February, mounting debts forced the closure of the Santa Ysabel Casino in California.

The Santa Ysabel Casino in California closed earlier this year after accumulating more than $50 million in debts. (Image:  MBS Astronomy)

Real money online poker is coming to California any time now. We’ve been hearing that story for years, but a combination of competing interests, disinterest from legislators and divisions on what exactly should be legal have prevented an Internet poker bill from moving forward. That’s been frustrating for the state’s tribes and poker rooms, most of which see California as a lucrative, viable market for the game.

Perhaps that’s why one tribe is now choosing to venture into the online poker world on their own, rather than waiting for the state to regulate the games. The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel has announced the launch of, a site they say will offer real money Internet poker for California residents.

Tribe Supports Legislation, But Claims Sovereignty

According to a press release posted on the blog of Marco Valerio, the tribe believes they can use their own sovereignty to legally offer online poker in the Golden State.

“The Tribe supports the effort by the Legislature to enact interactive online gambling legislation in the State, but has decided to rely on the tribal sovereignty and the provisions of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) to offer I-poker from the Tribe’s reservation,” spokesman David Vialpando said in the press release.

According to the tribe, the Santa Ysabel Gaming Commission will offer a regulatory structure that is even more stringent than what would be offered by the state of California under any of the proposed online poker bills. Santa Ysabel Interactive, which will operate the site, will also be partnering with the Kahnawake Gaming Commission to host part of the site’s infrastructure.

The tribe says that they hope that the site will be able to generate revenue to offset “high unemployment and a lack of economic opportunity” on their reservation. The tribe previously operated the Santa Ysabel Casino, but the remote location of the venue may have doomed the venture, which ultimately accrued more than $50 million in debts.

As of Monday, it did not appear that any real money play was occurring on the site, though free play tables and tournaments were running. There was no way to make deposits or withdrawals online, with the website saying that online banking options would eventually be available through the e-wallet service Finpay. Currently, the site says that deposits and withdrawals can be made at the Smoke Shop on the Santa Ysabel reservation, an obviously rather limiting factor in drawing in players. The site is reportedly running on the same software used by Poker Network skins.

Of course, the big question on everyone’s mind is whether or not will be allowed to operate. Given the questionable legality of the site, it’s likely that legal challenges will be incoming from other tribes and gaming interests in the state, if not the state itself.

But for the tribe, the hope is that they can be the first to tap into the biggest online poker market in the United States.

“It is Santa Ysabel Interactive’s goal to offer a safe, exciting and secure quality interactive gaming experience for California adult residents, employing cutting edge technology, customizable to the customer’s personal preferences,” the statement concluded.


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