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Tribes take sides in California online poker debate

The resurgence of political activity on the issue of Californian legalisation of online poker over the past two weeks has produced some interesting for-and-against alliances among the tribal groupings in the region. And although the moves are characterised as protective of the gambler, there are pronounced undertones of commercial gain.

Leading the pro-legalisation lobby is the California Online Poker Association with a measure introduced last week by Senator Lou Correa that seeks to put a "licensed entity" - one that already has a casino or card club in California - in charge of an "intra-state Internet poker website." This enterprise would pay an as yet undecided proportion of its revenues to state coffers, and all internet competition would be illegal.

It's a potentially lucrative intra-state proposition for any entity that manages to corner the market, with analysts estimating that up to 2 million Californians play poker, wagering up to $300 million a year. Those advocating state-by-state legalisation point to states' rights to autonomy in purely state affairs when the issue is discussed in the context of federal bans on online gambling financial transactions.

COPA is comprised of some 29 tribal groups and already licensed terrestrial card clubs, with the roster dominated by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, both owners of large tribal casino interests.

Opposing the COPA moves is the California Tribal Business Alliance, which also includes several large tribes with casinos. Although the Alliance appears to acknowledge the ultimate inevitability of internet gambling, a spokesman for this body was quoted this week as commenting that the COPA proposal was "....the equivalent of the state passing a bill to give Chevron the sole right to operate gas stations in California."

The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians - also land casino operators - have reportedly also dropped traditional alliances, voicing opposition to legalised online poker in the state and claiming that it flies in the face of tribal compacts and presents "game changing" elements of commercial pressure.

Adding to the melee is a repeat bill launched by State Senator Rod Wright, who failed at the committee stage with a similar bill earlier this year. Wright is the main man of the state senate committee that oversees matters pertaining to gambling, and therefore has to be regarded as an influential factor in the legalisation issue.

His last proposal suggested that three state-licensed land operators be given up to 20 year deals to run intra-state gambling sites in California.

Source: InfoPowa News

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