California Online Poker: United Auburn Indians Make Silent Shift to PokerStars Coalition

One of the more curious moves pertaining to the political struggle to bring regulated online poker to the US’s single most populous state, California, involves the apparent but very quiet shift of a former member of the state’s small but powerful “hardline” coalition, the United Auburn Indian Community, to a more neutral position backed by another “compromise” coalition which includes a would-be partner of many of California’s established card rooms and tribal casinos, PokerStars.

united-auburn-indian-community-logoHas a tentative contract been reached between the United Auburn tribe and Stars parent Amaya that adds the United Auburns to the pro-PokerStars fold?  Such a question is fair game for exploration after OPR obtained the text of a press release issued by the informally-titled PokerStars Coalition, congratulating California State Rep. Adam Gray on the recent introduction of his latest online-poker regulatory bill, AB 2863.

Yet curiosiities abound.  The undated letter (text reproduced below), as noted by OPR, claims the United Auburn Indian Community [UAIC] as a member of the Stars-led coalition, in a listing of coalition members near the bottom.  However, no such announcement about UAIC joining the group has yet been made, while the announcements about the joining of the San Manuel and Morongo bands and the three major LA-based cardrooms have been trumpeted by Stars with due fanfare in the past.

Even more interesting is that the consumer-action home representing the group’s interests, Californians for Responsible iPoker, has no mention of UAIC as one of the group’s members, nor is this press release available on the site.  This appears to be one of those publicity snafus where a major deal is in the works but somewhere along the way, the wires have been crossed.  If such is indeed the case, expect a rushed announcement confirming that UAIC has joined the PokerStars coalition to be announced later this week.

Also, if this is what’s in progress, then it represents a further ebbing of support behind the hardline, Pechanga-led coalition that has opposed most other would-be California stakeholders in a future regulated intrastate online-poker market.  Originally dubbed the “Cali 7” group here at FlushDraw, the hardline group at one time swelled to as many as nine tribes.  That was still less than 10% of all of California’s recognized tribal nations, but the group’s membership now appears to have shrunk to only six, according to another recent letter published by OPR.

Along with the Pechanga (Band of Luiseño Indians) themselves, the other remaining anti-compromise tribes are: the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians (which notably ran a smear radio ad attacking PokerStars last year), and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.  PokerStars and its parent company Amaya may well have embarked on a “divide and conquer” campaign, chipping away at the hardline group.  If so, the UAIC’s apparent shift may represent real fruits of that effort.

Here’s the text of that mysterious, not-released press release:

SACRAMENTO, CA – A growing coalition of tribal governments, cardrooms applauded the introduction of AB 2863, a bill to authorize and regulate iPoker in California.

The bill, authored by Assemblyman Adam Gray represents a breakthrough in the legislative logjam that has stymied efforts to pass online poker legislation for nearly a decade.

Coalition tribes and cardrooms praised Assemblyman Gray’s approach to moving online poker legislation forward. Tribal members were particularly optimistic after a February 11 meeting with Assembly Governmental Organization Committee Chair Gray Assembly GO Vice Chair Eric Linder and tribal leaders from both sides of the iPoker debate, in which everyone present agreed to move forward with iPoker legislation and begin an inclusive and transparent process that invited participation from all stakeholders.

In a letter to Asm. Gray last Friday, San Manuel chairwoman Lynn Valbuena said, “After eight years of discussion, very few issues remain outstanding…. We are optimistic that by working together we can get an iPoker bill passed this year.”

Morongo Tribal Chairman Robert Martin agreed, saying “We appreciate the work by Chairman Gray and Vice Chair Linder to bring tribal stakeholders with varying views on iPoker together for a frank and transparent discussion aimed at reaching consensus on the last few remaining issues. The bill language reflects the positive discussions we had at the Feb. 11 meeting and the agreement that we would continue working together to move iPoker forward.”

Members of the coalition reiterated its commitment to putting in the hours and time necessary to establish the framework for a vibrant, competitive marketplace this year, one that provides superior consumer protections, requires strict oversight and regulation of licensees and service providers, and ensures that the state receives a reasonable return.

The new bill would:

  • Establish a regulatory framework for Internet Poker in California;
  • Create a fund to share iPoker revenues with horse tracks;
  • Institute strict standards for fairness, consumer protection and revenue to the state;
  • Include safeguards against underage play and problem gambling.

The coalition includes major gaming tribes (Morongo Band of Mission Indians, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and the United Auburn Indian Community) and California’s three largest card clubs (Commerce Casino, Hawaiian Gardens Casino and Bicycle Casino).

The group is part of Californians for Responsible iPoker, a broad and growing coalition that also includes more than 10,000 California citizens who have signed up in support of passing internet poker legislation.

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