Suggested Possible Pechanga-PokerStars Coalition Building in California: “Completely False”
A weekend feature at Online Poker Report suggested that California’s Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians led the way at last week’s NIGA convention in San Diego in promoting an inclusive compromise to end legislative battles over competing California online poker bills may, instead, be an overly optimistic example of political spin.
The years-long battle over legalizing intrastate online poker in California has seen the process stymied by the hardline demands of a narrowing coalition of tribal nations demanding exclusivity in providing online poker to Californians, blocking alleged “bad actor” service providers such as the formerly US-facing PokerStars or California’s prominent pari-mutuel industry, which is also demanding seats at the virtual table.
FlushDraw spoke on Monday with a source with knowledge of what transpired at the NIGA (National Indian Gaming Association) meeting last Tuesday, who insisted on anonymity as a condition of providing insight. The source derided the OPR update as being “all spin,” and framed the statements being made as an example of “Pechanga trying to control the narrative” surrounding the iPoker legislative debate.
The Pechanga tribal nation and its chairman, Mark Macarro, have increasingly come under attack in several media outlets (including here at FlushDraw) questioning the tribe’s sincerity in its attempts to move California online-poker legislation forward. Given that the narrowing-but-powerful, Pechanga-led coalition continues to insist on barriers to market entry that virtual guarantee the failure of the bills it favors, the possibility of such legislation being a years-long blocking tactic continues to grow.
Last week’s NIGA convention in San Diego saw the tribal leaders of nine powerful Cali tribes again discussing the issue, including several of the seven tribes recently signing a pair of hardline letters to state legislators again demanding both the exclusion of the state’s pari-mutuel outlets and of the Amaya-owned PokerStars, which has already entered into preliminary service agreements with other California tribes and cardrooms.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, which was called by the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation’s new chairman Cody Martinez, talk indeed returned to building coalitions. The recent Online Poker Report feature, by Dave Palermo, suggested that Pechanga chairman Macarro led a push for an all-inclusive proposal dropping opposition to PokerStars on alleged “bad actor” or “tainted asset” grounds, even though PokerStars is no longer owned by the Isai Scheinberg family, having been sold to Canada’s Amaya Gaming last year.
Instead, as reported at OPR, the Pechanga-led group now thinks that bills can be pushed forward by perhaps dropping opposition to Stars, but continuing to oppose the state’s pari-mutuel industry. “If all the tribes got together with PokerStars … I’d like to see any legislator try to get in front of that train,” an unidentified source told OPR.
The tradeoff, of course, is that the other tribes, including several powerful nations who already have or who might consider partnering with PokerStars and Amaya to use its software, would have to support a Pechanga-backed bill such as Rep. Mike Gatto’s AB 9, currently under consideration.
Such a tribes-only consensus also defies other political realities in California, including a vow by Governor Jerry Brown that a Cali online-poker bill that excludes the state’s pari-mutuel outlets is a “non-starter.” The chance that Gatto’s bill could achieve two-thirds majority votes in both state houses while overcoming a threatened veto and opposition from both the pari-mutuel industry and widespread anti-gambling concerns in the state is approximately nil.
Nor does the tone of the room’s discussion appear to have been as inclusive as the OPR report appeared to present it. According to FlushDraw’s source, “The talk in the room was, again, about alienating some, making it not all-inclusive, and keeping the tracks out.”
The OPR story also raised the possibility that the Pechangas or other hardline tribes may already have been in contact with Amaya over the possibility of building a different sort of coalition in California, one that would seek to block pari-mutuel involvement. Though FlushDraw had not received a response from Amaya prior to publication, a third-party source indicated that such a contact had not occurred. “Completely false,” FlushDraw was told.
It’s become increasingly clear in recent weeks that the California online-poker debate has reached a political stalemate of sorts, with interested parties now working the media and assessing public response in an attempt to find a path forward.
The path of least resistance, naturally, appears to be an all-inclusive approach that would allow the future market itself to determine its own winners and losers, perhaps with a revenue-sharing agreement in place that would provide a taste of the financial pie to all interested parties. Such an amicable solution, however, still appears to be a long way off.