2/28/10 – The heated debate on the legalization of online poker in the state of California has been much in the news lately (see previous InfoPowa reports), with substantial focus on the differing opinions of two Indian gambling groups.
 
On the one side of the argument is the Morongo band of Mission Indians who have land gambling interests and would like to get into the Internet poker business in partnership with some of the big cardroom operators in California. There is something of a double standard in their strategies because, as Congressman Barney Frank pointed out recently, they have opposed his federal moves to legalise the online game and other Internet gambling genres which may compete with their land interests.
 
Opposing the Morongo is the California Tribal Business Alliance (CTBA), which seems to feel that legalising Internet gambling would constitute a threat to their businesses.
 
This week the Sacramento Bee published an interesting article by special correspondent Robert Martin in which he examines the CTBA's contention that legalising Internet poker would be breaking a gambling compact between the state and the Indian tribes.
 
Martin argues that the CTBA position is not supported by the facts, and he quotes Daniel Patrick Moyniham's trenchant observation that "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts."
 
Pointing out that California is struggling with a serious $20 billion budget deficit and that a legalised intrastate poker industry could assist in addressing this, Martin claims that a million Californians a week are playing poker on offshore websites… and that means there is no contribution to state coffers and the fiscus.
 
He also draws attention to the recent public hearing testimony of George Forman, a Morongo legal representative who has been closely involved with the law on tribal gambling for some 40 years.
 
Forman rebutted the CTBA claim that legalising Internet poker would violate state compacts with tribal gambling interests by explaining in the February 9th Legislature hearings that the compact gives Californian tribes the exclusive right to operate slot machines. Internet poker does not come into the compact. And apparently Forman's interpetation is also that of a 2008 Legislative Counsel opinion.
 
Martin, who also happens to be a tribal chairman of the Morongo Band, says the CTBA did not offer a contrary legal opinion to rebut the explanation provided by Forman and the Legislative Counsel, and he surmises that this is most likely because nothing in either the compacts or the law supports CTBA's argument.
 
"No one has ever suggested that an intrastate Internet poker system would close the $20 billion budget hole that California is facing," Martin wrote in the article. "But budgets are built on many revenue streams that all flow into one place to pay for all the critical needs of Californians.
 
"If a legalized, regulated and taxed system of intrastate Internet poker could provide one of these many revenue streams, California needs to give it serious consideration.
 
"Time is of the essence. Every day we wait means millions of dollars in potential revenue that should stay in California, leaves California."