Grey Area

California tribe explains why it launched online poker room

David Chelette, general manager of Santa Ysabel Casino in Southern California, last month explained why the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel decided to launch an online poker site even though the California legislature has not yet legalized online gaming in the Golden State.

Chelette, also the name of the online poker room, told OnlinePokerReport.com that the tribe has been closely following lawmakers’ attempts to craft a bill that all parties can agree on. He noted that none of the bills being considered took into account a tribe’s inherent legal right to offer Class II games, which the Santa Ysabel tribe argues includes poker.

He said, “If you take a close look at the proposed bills, you will see that they do not take into consideration tribes’ current right to offer and regulate Class II gaming, and virtually make it impossible for most tribes to participate.”

He added, “As California gets closer to the final draft of the proposed legislation, we are hoping to have an opportunity to provide some input as to how it could better allow Santa Ysabel and other small to mid-level gaming tribes a way to participate within a state-licensed online gaming structure.” He noted that all of the servers for the games are located on sovereign territory, i.e. tribal land. He maintains that the online site has been built to abide by state and federal laws.

The site will be the first online poker site to “legally” tap into the state’s 38 million population and what would be the world’s eighth largest economy if the state were a country.

Martin Owens, who represents the tribe, argues that the legality of the tribe’s action will have to be addressed in the courts. “Basically what you have is a bunch of issues that haven’t been adequately addressed or haven’t been addressed at all,” he said. He noted that only nine states mention the internet and gambling together. Most of those laws have been on the books for decades.

“So along comes the internet, and it’s opened up the jurisdiction question,” Owens said. “If there’s ever been an elephant in the room, it’s the jurisdiction question. Where does the bet take place and why?”

The fact that all of the betting happens on the server, which is located on sovereign territory, makes the activity legal, says Owens.

Last year the tribe closed its brick-and-mortar casino after it was unable to declare bankruptcy to get out from under money that it owes the county of San Diego.

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