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Viejas Smear Ad Against PokerStars Spews Falsehoods, Generates Blowback

Last week’s airing of a political smear ad by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians targeting PokerStars has continued to polarize the debate over the future of regulated California online poker.  With the prospects for the passage of any California poker bill having all but disappeared for 2015, the emergence of the smear ad signifies that the stakeholders in this battle are in for a long, bitter fight.

ViejasBandofKumeyaayIndians-LogoWhat’s odd, perhaps, is the timing of the ad’s airing.  The Viejas are one of the seven hardline “Cali 7” tribal nations that oppose allowing anyone other than California tribal casinos and select cardrooms to offer online poker, in the event such a bill can even pass over the objections of the state’s widespread anti-gambling forces.

This means that the Viejas, along with the Pechangas, Agua Calientes and a handful of other politically powerful tribes, want both “bad actor” provisions and the blocking of the state’s pari-mutuel industry when it comes to California’s future online-poker world.

The radio ad paid for by the Viejas aired in several California poker markets in recent days, and it’s pulled out the usual smear tactics in trying to claim that Amaya-owned PokerStars is indeed some sort of “bad actor” from whom the state of California needs protection.  If you’d like to listen to the ad, OPR has an uploaded audio available for listening, but we’ll include the complete script here for posterity’s sake, as well to enumerate the lies and misrepresentations offered within.

It’s quite the piece of work.  Courtesy of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, this despicable pile of garbage:

The California Legislature should be trying to stop Internet scam artists and con men.  We deserve to be protected from corrupt companies like PokerStars, which was indicted by the US government for illegal gambling, bank fraud and money laundering, and paid $731 million to avoid criminal conviction.  

PokerStars’ parent company recently had its headquarters raided as part of an investigation into violations of securities laws, but this hasn’t stopped PokerStars from lobbying our state legislature to allow them to participate in online poker here in California, gaining access to every computer, tablet and smartphone in the state.  

This is not right, and we deserve better.  Please go to findyourreps.legislature.ca.gov, contact your state legislator, and tell them to keep bad actors, like PokerStars, out of AB 431 and out of California.  

Paid for by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.

Let’s see, where to start:

1) The actual amount of the settlement was $547 million, not $731 million, and even that smaller sum included a specific set-aside to reimburse waiting US customers of PokerStars in full, not that there had ever been issues with customers withdrawing bankrolls from the company before Black Friday.  The remainder of the $731 million was for the purchase of all assets of former rival Full Tilt Poker, a US-owned company whose failure would have left American players in the lurch.

2) The illegal gambling enterprise charge against PokerStars parent Rational Group would almost certainly have been dismissed if it had gone to court, based upon the issuance of an opinion later in 2011 by then-US Attorney General Eric Holder that the 1961 Wire Act applied only to sports betting… which PokerStars never offered.  When combined with #1, PokerStars should be viewed as a good corporate citizen, not as “scam artists” or “con men.”

3) “Every computer, tablet and smartphone in the state.”  Last time I checked, PokerStars wasn’t the NSA, now would it every have “access” to every Californian’s computers and Internet hookups.  This is pure scaremongering at its finest.  One could also wonder if the Viejas are somehow presuming that they should have a similar entitlement, should PokerStars be eliminated from licensing eligibility?

4) The laughable “we deserve to be protected from corrupt companies” and “we deserve better” inclusions.  PokerStars has always ranked on the top of consumer-satisfaction charts, but the odious inclusion is the “we”.  Exactly who in the hell is the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians pretending to con by claiming alignment with consumers’ bests interests?  Last we checked, the Viejas and the other “Cali 7” tribes favored a Pechanga-drafted bill that demanded sovereign rights regarding the operation of all off-reservation, online poker offerings.  That would deny online poker players all forms of proper consumer protections, and force them to take complaints to a mickey-mouse tribal court system owned and operated by the very same tribes one would have a grievance against, including even the attorneys deemed eligible to represent plaintiffs.

Unless the California legislature somehow plans to declare the entire Internet as land-in-trust for these same tribes, such sovereignty claims should be eradicated from the state’s online-poker bills.  [Public disclosure to preempt any “anti-tribe” claims by others: I have nearly two dozen gambling accounts in good standing at tribal casinos scattered across the US, and have a collection of loyalty cards to prove it.]

5) “PokerStars’ parent company recently had its headquarters raided as part of an investigation into violations of securities laws… .” This refers to the investigation into Canada-based Amaya’s acquisition of PokerStars last year, in which Amaya’s stock price surged by several hundred percent in the week’s preceding the acquisition’s official confirmation.  Problem is, two Canadian securities-and-investment firms participating in the fundraising for the deal were also raided, and Canadian finance-media reports generally indicate that the illegal disclosures emanated from those two firms, and likely not from Amaya itself.

In any event, the ad is political garbage, likely crafted by veteran political garbage-spewers with the paid backing of the Viejas nation.  Most onlookers are wondering why, since AB 431 and several other bills also officially under consideration simply aren’t going anywhere in the near term.  What the ad’s airing has done is further crystallized public opinion against the Viejas and the other hardline tribes, on the basis that if they’re willing to stoop to this, they’re not willing to negotiate the matter on legitimate merits.

As PokerStars’ Head of Corporate Communications, Eric Hollreiser, noted on Twitter soon after the ad first aired, “Lies, distortion and fear-mongering. Reeks of desperation, no?”

And then some.  The Viejas made no friends with their ad.  They might have switched a few opinions, however, if not exactly the direction they intended.

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