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Hopes of Online Poker in California Dimming for This Year

Hopes of Online Poker in California Dimming for This Year

Officials of California’s racetrack industry say they are not tempted by a “revenue-sharing” idea recently floated by Indian gaming tribes who are opposed to participation by racetracks in iPoker.

In June, Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro, testifying before the Assembly Government Organization Committee, said his tribe, which has opposed any participation in online poker by any entities other than tribes or card rooms, would be in favor of giving them a share of online revenues. Pechanga heads a coalition of nine tribes that share this common position.

“If that is not an acceptable form of participation, the racing industry also has the means to enter into private partnerships with licensed operators to participate as affiliates,” he said.

During the same hearing, Macarro said, “We are realistic about the politics of this issue. That is why Pechanga is prepared to support other opportunities for the racing industry to participate and benefit from online poker.

“We respect the sport of horse racing and recognize the importance of the jobs that rely on the industry.”

Reacting to Macarro’s offer, Keith Brackpool of the Stronach Group, which represents track operators and owners, said, “I appreciate the offer, but we don’t believe at this stage that a level playing field would be the other part of the gaming community having a license and determining what morsel of that we would receive.”

Industry members say they consider the offer by Pechanga to be condescending. “We feel that internet space is really our space,” Joe Morris, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, told Online Poker Report. “If anyone enters that space, we want a seat at the table.”

Morris added that the racing is the only legal wagering entity currently conducting business online. “We’ve done so without any challenges for the last 14 or so years,” he said. He noted that the same revenue-sharing offer was made many months ago. “We want the same shot at a license as everyone else.”

Five tribes don’t share Pechanga’s opposition to participation by racetracks. They include Rincon, Pala, Morongo, San Manuel and the United Auburn Indian Community.

Robyn Black, a lobbyist for the thoroughbred racing industry, predicts that no bill will be approved without the racing industry and its 22,000 union members. He told Online Poker Report, “Any discussion on internet gaming has to include horse racing. It should not be exclusive to tribes. It should not be exclusive to card rooms. If it was going to be exclusive to anybody, we’re the only ones on the internet.”

Another would-be participant at the table is PokerStars, which has partnered with several other gaming tribes. Pechanga also opposes its participation, supporting inclusion of a “bad actor” clause that would prevent PokerStars’ inclusion because the international company once allowed American players to participate in real-money games in contravention of U.S. law.

The impasse has convinced some Sacramento political observers that no iPoker bill is likely to be passed in the legislature this year. However, Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians has not yet thrown in the towel. It has established a new website that will provide updates on iPoker legislation.