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California’s Santa Ysabel Tribe Launches Online Poker Site

California’s Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueño Indians has jumped to the forefront of real-money online gambling in California by announcing plans to launch a real-money online poker site available to California residents.  According to press information released over the weekend, the new site launched by the tribe,, may begin accepting real-money deposits from California residents as early as today.  However, only play-money tables are in operation at the present time.

private-table-logo-2The move by the Santa Ysabel band, which is also known as the Iipay Nation, denies the validity of legislation currently being debated in Sacramento’s state legislature.  A statement by the tribe declares that the Santa Ysabel’s offerings, provided under a new entity called Santa Ysabel Interactive, already have the rights to offer such games for real money.

According to the declaration, offered on the website, “In offering online gaming through Santa Ysabel Interactive, the Tribe is exerting its sovereign right under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) to regulate and conduct Class II gaming from the tribe’s reservation.”

The declaration further noted that, “Class II gaming, as defined by IGRA, includes poker and bingo, but does not include slot-based games or house-banked games, such as blackjack. House-banked games and slot machines are defined as Class III games, and can only be offered in a tribal casino upon agreement with the state through a Tribal-State Gaming Compact. Santa Ysabel has had such a compact with the state since 2005, but has no plans to offer Class III gaming through its interactive website.”

The new site will offer Texas Hold’em, Omaha and Seven Card Stud in both cash-game and tournament formats, and will be operated in partnership with Canada’s Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which operates from Kahnawake lands near Montreal.  Santa Ysabel Interactive has also registered the domain through European registrar SafeNames in an apparent attempt to forestall any attempts at regulatory interference through US-based registrars.

The software itself is a variation of the Winning Poker Network platform, which is already in use and available to many American players (including Californians) through sites such as America’s Cardroom and True Poker.  Those sites likely do not have any direct connection to the new offering, which instead appears tied to the current IGSoft offerings headed by Vinko Dobrosevic.

Dobrosevic was the force behind the creation of the old Dobrosoft platform, and his current group of sites includes, another WPN skin.  The PokerKing site includes large quantities of content which have now been repurposed for use at, while the PokerKing poker site and a couple of related casino offerings are grouped together as King Enterprises L.V., which operates out of Malta.

The statement issued by Santa Ysabel Interactive and its spokesman, Dave Vialpando, decries the current California i-poker legislation as being crafted for the express benefit of a few of the state’s richest tribes.

According to SYInteractive:

There are currently two pending legislative proposals being considered by the California Legislature.  Santa Ysabel and other California tribes have significant concerns regarding both legislative proposals.   The current proposed legislation excludes all but the wealthiest gaming tribes from engaging in state-regulated online gaming.  Smaller or remotely located tribes, like Santa Ysabel, would not be able to meet the financial prerequisites for participation in online gaming as currently proposed, in spite of their years of experience conducting and regulating brick-and-mortar Class II and Class III gaming.  [Author’s note: The current legislation being debated by CA state legislators calls for a $10 million up-front license fee.]

Many tribes feel that the current proposed legislation gives the state too much regulatory authority over tribal online gaming, an authority which historically has been the sole purview of tribal gaming regulators due to the Class II status of the games involved.  The proposed legislation discounts and marginalizes years of successful and experienced regulation of tribal gaming in California in favor of relatively inexperienced state gaming regulators.  Santa Ysabel and other tribes believe that effective Internet-based gaming regulation would result from an equal and respectful partnership between state regulators and tribal gaming regulators.

Tribes have a long history of being marginalized and discounted by government agencies.  Tribal gaming has enabled some tribes to assert their rightful place in U.S. society and provided economic opportunity and the right to self-determination which generations of government repression have denied Native Americans.

Santa Ysabel hopes to positively influence any proposed state I-gaming legislation from its experience with Santa Ysabel Interactive and the months of planning dedicated to establishing a solid operational and regulatory structure.

The Santa Ysabel statement does not specifically cite other California tribes as backing its move.  However, the Santa Ysabel’s own casino experiences offer some level of confirmation, as the tribe’s own remote casino, located northeast of San Diego, adjacent to the San Jacinto Mountains, was closed in February, leaving $50 million in debt and 115 casino workers without jobs.  Hoped-for casino patrons from San Diego, Escondido and elsewhere had larger and closer casino options at their disposal, leaving the Santa Ysabel offering an unattractive commercial destination.

We’ll have a follow-up in the near future on the connections behind this new Iipay Nation offering, as well as some of the industry reaction and response likely to take place.

A separate statement provided by Santa Isabel Interactive to, one of the first sites to announce’s launch,


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