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Free to Be

Groups open no-cash online poker sites

The California legislature has twice mulled bills that would legalize online gaming without moving them forward. So to raise the idea’s visibility, a group supporting internet poker has opened a free poker site called Calshark.com.

It will offer Omaha and Texas hold’em games. Other websites are already following suit.

Since no money changes hands, such sites are legal. But they give players a sense of what the real thing would be like—and help marshal support for such a law.

The group behind the site, and behind Senate Bill 40, is the California Online Poker Association (COPA), a consortium of 60 poker clubs and gaming tribes, including the San Manuel, Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Morongo tribe. In September, the Barona tribe opened a poker game on its casino website. The Cabazon Band of Mission Indians has operated such a “play free” site for over a year.

But tribes that are not part of that group, and which oppose Senate Bill 40, are also opening free poker sites, according to David Quintana, who represents the California Tribal Business Alliance, a group of gaming tribes.

“Right now just about every single tribe that’s not (part of the California Online Poker Association) is at work at some level doing the same thing. So there are going to be more free sites in California than you can shake a stick at,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Nevada, South Point launched a free internet poker site during the Global Gaming Expo.

Unlike the California sites, South Point’s will offer cash and non-cash prizes, including trips to Las Vegas casinos and the fees to compete in live poker events.

However, since the site is for “amusement only,” the Nevada Gaming Control Board says that it is not governed by gaming regulations.