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California Tribal Unity at All-Time High

With 2015 fast approaching, the possible approval of an online poker bill will again receive attention among California lawmakers.

Whether the new year comes and goes without online poker players in California being afforded the safeguards that regulation brings remains to be seen. A handful of calendars have already been discarded as rubbish since talk of legalized Internet poker in the Golden State began.

For those who tend to take a glass half-full attitude, it’s encouraging to note that California tribes, who have been blamed for much of the delay in previous ipoker legislation attempts, are seemingly more united than ever before. Mark Macarro of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians said as much in a recent interview with iGaming Business.

:We have a unified bill, that is supported by many of the experienced, respected and influential tribes in California,” said the Pechanga tribal chairman. “The progress tribes made coming together earlier this year should not be underestimated. Frankly, a lot of the experts were surprised to see this group of tribes come together as quickly they did during the legislative session. I think the fact that they couldn’t believe they came together still has people underestimating the fact we do now have that unified position.”;



While the experts may be surprised, there likely remains a large segment of the populace who undoubtedly wonder what took so long. With potentially billions of dollars in revenue at stake, your average online poker player might think that the tribes and gaming interests involved could come together on a workable solution for everybody that doesn’t take years and years to accomplish.

But greed casts an ugly shadow sometimes. And that shadow continues to block the sunlight of regulated Internet poker in California in the form of a number of hurdles that remain despite the newfound tribal unity.

Whos in?

Who’s in and who’s out with regard to participating in an ipoker regime are questions yet to be answered. The horse racing industry and PokerStars want in, prompting the latter to team with a powerful tribe and top state cardrooms in order to enhance their odds of inclusion.

When asked about the issues still standing in the way, Macarro admitted that “we need to have conversations with the horse racing industry about funding. And of course there are the bad actor provisions, that’s also a topic that will undoubtedly be revisited.”

The tribes apparently found compromise among themselves that enabled the collective approval of an online poker bill. Now it’s likely a matter of extending a bit of that same compromise to the racetracks, as well as the group that includes PokerStars, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Bicycle Casino, Commerce Casino, and the Hawaiian Gardens cardrooms.

Those who still hold out hope that California will one day agree to partner with other regulated states in order to beef up player pools are relegated to continue hoping. Macarro insisted that no such model is on the table or being discussed.

“Our focus is on providing limited, regulated online poker on an intrastate basis,” Macarro said. “We are focused on California.”

What’s next?

Two ipoker bills were introduced prior to the 2014 legislative session. While those landed in the muck, any new online poker bills for next year can be proposed as early as December.

Macarro expects that to happen, but is not yet certain who will be spearheading the effort. Senator Lou Correa, who was one of the 2014 sponsors, has reached the end of his term. Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, the other legislator pushing for ipoker regulation, remains a possibility.

We anticipate that legislation will be introduced as early as December,” Macarro said. “We need to take stock of who is left standing. We probably expect Reggie Jones-Sawyer in the State Assembly to continue his efforts at being the bill author in his house. For big issues such as this, there never really seems to be shortage of champions or would-be champions. We looking forward to sorting through that, and there will be plenty to sort through. But people are not shying away from that.”

Whoever proposes the online poker bill or bills, it appears that the tribes have banded together like never before. Though they are seemingly near, the issues that stand in the way remain at a distance. Can the gap be closed in 2015 to allow for progress to be made and for Californians to be able to play regulated online poker?



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Charles Rettmuller

Charles has been an avid poker player for a number of years, both live and online. He holds a degree in journalism and previously worked as a reporter for a Chicago-based newspaper. Charles joined the PokerUpdate team in early 2012 and writes daily news articles for the site.