The pressure to regulate intrastate poker in the tax-strapped state of California is increasing, according to a report this week in the Sacramento Bee. And the situation has created unlikely alliances, such as that between California card clubs and tribal casinos, long bitter political rivals, but now working together in a concerted, behind-the-scenes drive to legalise Internet poker, the newspaper reports.
Apparently the effort to create an online California "Internet poker consortium" is being led by a wealthy Riverside County tribe, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and card clubs including the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles County.
Lobbyists have been despatched to the state capital and the alliance is privately courting other tribes and poker rooms to build political momentum for a gambling enterprise run by a consortium of tribes and card rooms. The state's 60 card clubs and more than 100 federally recognised Indian tribes would be eligible to participate, the Sacramento Bee article claims.
The plan is to get an Internet poker bill passed after lawmakers return from their summer recess next Monday. Representatives from dozens of tribal groups have been invited to hear the proposal this Thursday at a closed-door meeting at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento.
The Morongo tribe is using the desperate tax situation of the state as justification for tribes and card clubs to tap into a vast offshore Internet poker industry that draws an estimated $4 billion in what are now classed by enforcement officials as illegal bets from U.S. residents.
The California effort may get a boost – and legal clarification – from federal legalization introduced August 6 by Senator Robert Menendez (see earlier InfoPowa report). The New Jersey Democrat's bill would legalise online poker and "games of skill."
Similar but broader online gambling legalization by Congressman Barney Frank would give states and Indian tribes the authority to permit – or disallow – Internet poker for their residents.
"You've got a huge amount of gambling going on on the Internet right now that is a large measure unregulated," George Forman, an attorney for the Morongo tribe, said in an interview with the Sacramento Bee.
"Huge amounts of money are being wagered. The state is not getting any of that. Money is going offshore.
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"I think it is fair to say there is an interest on some people's part that this activity can and should be regulated to protect consumers and produce a revenue source for the states," Forman added.
Not all tribes may be on board with the Morongo move, however. Some California tribal groups reportedly claim a poker cooperative with card clubs could upset California tribes' exclusive rights to casino action and violate federal standards against off-reservation gambling.
"They're trying to convince people that this is a good idea and we should move forward when the Legislature comes back," said Alison Harvey, executive director of the California Tribal Business Alliance, which recently heard the pitch from Morongo tribal representatives. "I just think there's serious potential consequences of this that haven't been thought through."
Morongo officials declined to discuss specifics of their plan publicly. But in private talks with other gambling interests, they have said a California poker consortium could net $450 million a year. Morongo has apparently suggested a 10 percent licensing fee to be paid to the state. Proposed bill language being circulated leaves the state's share blank.
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