Will PokerStars be dealt out of legalized online poker in California?

Poker-StarsLA Times – In legislative proceedings, the most important words in a debate often are the ones left unmentioned. At a hearing held by a California state assembly committee last month about legalizing online poker, the unspoken term was PokerStars.

No hearing witnesses wanted to say outright that they were talking about PokerStars. It’s the largest online poker company in the world, which wants in on the riches to be had if California legalizes Internet card play, but it also has faced federal charges of money laundering and fraud. So the April 23 discussion before the Governmental Organization Committee was filled with talk about California’s “tremendously competent regulators,” and how to keep unspecified “bad actors” out of California gaming, and how legislators should avoid “picking winners and losers.”

These were code words for the most explosive issue still dividing California’s Indian tribes — whether PokerStars should be allowed to participate. Since legalization depends almost entirely on what the tribes want, it’s not a trivial matter.

The state’s poker interests basically have coalesced into two groups. The one group is made up of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, which owns California’s largest casino; the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; and the Agua Caliente, Pala and other tribes. The second group comprises the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, whose huge casino is located just northwest of Palm Springs; and the Bicycle, Commerce and Hawaiian Gardens card clubs. They’ve made a deal with PokerStars to run their online game.

The Morongo group complains that the two bills to legalize Internet poker in California introduced by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), include language drafted specifically to keep PokerStars out of the state.


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