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The 15th annual Western Indian Gaming Conference of Californian Indian gambling operators kicked off this week with Daniel Tucker, the chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, urging unity.
The Desert Sun reports that a smaller than usual gathering began discussions on one of the key items on the agenda - the consequences of legalised online poker in California.
The tribes have been polarised since last year, when the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and four Californian card rooms formed an alliance to try to get exclusive legislation introduced legalising Internet poker in the state.
Tucker said the goal of the conference was to build consensus on Internet poker issues, saying the federal push to legalise online gambling in general could threaten the economic livelihoods that the tribes have worked to build over the last 25 years.
"Your involvement is essential,'' he told delegates.
Consensus building began in earnest, prompting former state Sen. Jim Battin to predict an Internet poker bill could be put before California lawmakers sometime this year (2010).
"It will only work if there's one front,'' he said.
Morongo chairman Robert Martin explained why his band had taken the initiative last year. The state-wide effort began as a way to derail a move made last fall when Congress threatened to tack a piece of "damaging Internet poker legislation" onto the federal health care bill, sensing it was "steaming ahead like a greased locomotive."
With federal lawmakers acting as if they'd "found a $40 billion pot of gold" for the federal treasurer, Martin said the Morongo felt rapid action was needed to keep Congress from robbing tribes of their ability to successfully compete in the online marketplace.
"Steps had to be taken to protect financial interests against erosion from off-shore companies and Las Vegas corporations,'' Martin said, adding that the threat has not gone away.
"We rushed to Congress to beat back a bill that would have restricted our participation,'' Martin said. "That is why we were simultaneously working in Sacramento on our own California Internet poker legislation."
The Desert Sun reports that despite Martin's explanation, questions loomed large over exclusivity protections for tribes, compact protections, impacts to existing casinos and the relationship struck with California card rooms.
Martin said that the Morongo's postponement of their initiative to legalise online poker has enabled everyone to "step back to get better acquainted with the issues."
It's also been flagged as a potential budget bail-out, one delegate commented. "With the budget deficit being what it is, this bill holds potential to advance if revenue sharing strings are attached," he said.
As InfoPowa went to press the discussion was continuing, with some off topic debate on whether the media should be excluded from the deliberations, a suggestion made by the head of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians tribal council.
Source: InfoPowa News