California Compromise?

Tribes, politicians get together to urge passage of iPoker bill

California lawmakers Adam Gray and Reggie Jones-Sawyer have put their heads together to sponsor yet another bill that would regulate online poker in the Golden State. And the United Auburn Indian Community of Northern California has joined the PokerStars coalition of gaming tribes who support legalizing iPoker in the state and want to partner with the largest operator of online poker in the world.

An iPoker bill was introduced in February, just hours before the deadline to introduce bills. It includes up to $60 million annually to the racing industry from a combination of one-time licensing fees and continuous tax revenue. The amount would not be guaranteed, but would be yoked to profits from the industry.

In return, of course, the racetrack industry would not have a place at the table of those actually participating as online operators.

As the bill explains it: “The bill would require the first $60,000,000 collected each fiscal year pursuant to the license deposit and quarterly fees provisions to be deposited into the California Horse Racing Internet Poker Account, which the bill would establish in the General Fund. The bill would continuously appropriate 95 percent of the funds in the account to the California Horse Racing Board for distribution, as specified, and would transfer 5 percent of those funds to the Fair and Exposition Fund, a continuously appropriated fund.”

Some analysts who have run the numbers have concluded that it would be a very rosy scenario indeed to where the new business would come close to raising $60 million a year.

By adding the United Auburn tribe, the consortium has come out in favor of Gray’s bill. His bill does not contain a “bad actor” clause as has been insisted upon by the coalition headed by Pechanga. Others that support the bill are the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians and California Nations Indian Gaming Association.

Rincon Chairman Bo Mazzetti recently noted that his tribe initially wasn’t interested in iPoker. “But more and more, the younger generation is on their machines, and not so much into the slot machines. They are more into mobile platforms and table games and high-tech.”

The Auburn tribe has moved around on this issue, having sided with two of the other coalitions previously. Two years ago, it sided with Pechanga, and opposed PokerStars as well as the participation of horse-racing interests in online poker.

The coalition now includes the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the United Auburn Indian Community, Commerce Casino, Bicycle Casino and Hawaiian Gardens Casino, plus PokerStars.

Political watchers in the Golden State are unsure whether this shift is enough to change the game significantly. Pechanga is big enough to keep any bill that it doesn’t like from being rammed through the legislature. Moreover, it still commands the loyalty of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Barona Band of Mission Indians, Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.