Morongo, San Manuel Tribes Protest Against California DFS Measure

Two prominent tribal gaming nations in California, the Morongo and San Manuel bands of Mission Indians, have written letters of concern over the rapid advancement of daily fantasy sports (DFS) bills through the California state legislature. Leaders of the two tribal nations have sent separate but highly similar letters of complaint to State Representative Adam Gray, the chairman of the Assembly’s “GO” (Govermental Organization) committee, the starting point for such legislation.

Rep. Gray is the sponsor of Assembly Bill 1437, which would effectively legalize the DFS industry in the US’s most populous state. AB 1437 cruised through its initial committee vote by a 68-1 count, and remains on the fast track toward possible passage, despite continuing protests from several elements of California’s long-established gaming industry.


Gray is also the former sponsor of AB 431, the “compromise” online poker bill that suffered a technical death in the California legislature last week. No timetable has been sent for any possible reintroduction of online-poker measures in the Golden State.

The letters of protest by Robert Martin, chairman of the Morongo tribe, and Lynn Valbuena, chairwoman of the San Manuel nation, have yet to be published in their entirety, but the state-capital outlet Sacramento Bee has obtained copies of the letters and has just published brief excerpts.

“As you know, California’s gaming tribes have made significant contributions to the state and local economies by offering games that are legal under state and federal law,” said Martin, in his February 5th letter. “As such, our members are very concerned that a retroactive approval of a form of gaming that is otherwise illegal, simply because it is popular, is a very dangerous precedent.”

Martins letter also declared that Gray’s measure, if passed, would reward DFS sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings by allowing them to operate “with no repercussions for violating state law.”

The SacBee update offered little specific text from Valbuena’s follow-up, which was dated yesterday, though Valbuena did note that AB 1437 is moving forward with “very little vetting or deliberation.” Both tribes also included their likely plans to file formal letters of opposition to AB 1437, which they view as a violation of state gaming law as it applies to anti-bookmaking statutes.

It’s also interesting to note that the Morongo and San Manuel tribal nations are the two most prominent tribes associated with PokerStars, the Amaya Gaming-owned international giant that itself would like to be included in California’s online poker future. Both the Morongos and San Manuels have signed operational deals with Stars, providing an avenue for Stars’ return to the California market, pending the “someday” passage of a poker bill in the state, and the required approval of PokerStars and parent company Amaya by the state’s gaming regulators.

However, several California online-poker bills were sabotaged by a hardline group of eight political powerful tribes, who continue to demand tribal exclusivity over most forms of online gambling in California, to the detriment of other interested parties. Whether or not those tribes’ opposition to Gray’s compromise poker legislation is a giant red herring designed to perpetuate the status quo, favoring their brick-and-mortar operations, remains a topic of fierce debate.

Nonetheless, a large majority of California’s tribal nations appear set against the state’s rush to legalize DFS. And that is perhaps the largest driving point behind Martin’s and Valbuena’s letters. If the two tribes can build a large coalition that can slow down or sidetrack California’s DFS push, then they can perhaps re-tie the DFS considerations to those of other, temporarily-shelved gambling matters.

And if that occurs, and if DFS somehow gets sidetracked or tied in, then a pro-poker measure such as Gray’s killed AB 431 might find new life, and a possible pathway toward eventual passage. The specter of DFS slicing away continuing gamble dollars could provide incentive for all of the state’s tribes to finally unite behind that compromise legislation, in the hopes of serving their own larger interests.

In that context, the DFS push in California might actually turn out to be good for online poker’s prospects.


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