Unanswered Questions Remain for CA Tribe’s Online Poker Site

Written By Steve Ruddock on September 12, 2014
The Santa Ysabel tribe is still making news despite not releasing their site yet as they said they would.

The Santa Ysabel tribe is continuing to make overtures to the poker community that they are planning to launch a real-money online poker room ahead of any legislation by the state.

However, many people are skeptical that this will come to pass and consider the announcements posturing by the tribe; a means to some other end.

The tribe could quell some of this dissent by answering the quartet of questions I have listed below.

Question #1: What’s the difference?

For lack of a better description, the Santa Ysabel poker site will be an offshore site (such as Lock Poker, Carbon Poker, or Americas Cardroom) that is headquartered in California.

Like an offshore site, there will be no oversight by California or any other regulatory body in the U.S.

They are using the same type of payment processing company to handle transactions, the same type of overseas regulatory body and server hosting, and the even the same software as some offshore sites.

The logical question is, why would a Californian choose to play at PrivateTable.com when they could play against a larger pool of players at one of the other offshore sites mentioned above? Americas Cardroom and Black Chip Poker are even using the exact same software.

Question #2: Is this legal?

You can say it is until you’re blue in the face but there are several lingering issues over the legality of this endeavor, and there is little question in anyone’s mind that the site will be served with a lawsuit the second they try to launch.

Firstly, let’s just assume it’s legal under Class II gaming laws from the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), and that online bets occur at the server. There is still a serious issue as the Santa Ysabel servers are going to be located in Canada on the Kahnawake reservation.

I recently asked Martin Owens Jr. a gaming law expert who is consulting for the Santa Ysabel tribe this very question:

“Does the server not being on Santa Ysabel tribal lands matter? If the Kahnawake tribe hosts the servers wouldn’t this violate Class II gaming (assuming online poker is Class II gaming) under IGRA as the betting is taking place off-reservation?”

His response was far from reassuring:

“that is something that I have discussed at length with my clients. Both they and I are confident that our course of action is within the law.”

Moving on, whether or not poker is Class II gaming in California is indisputable, but there is still debate if online poker is. Martin Shapiro has made this argument many times, and nobody (on either side) has been able to make an overly compelling case.

Furthermore, is it legal for FinPay to process these online poker payments? This seems like another loose end that nobody is really discussing.

Question #3: What is causing the delays?

“This is no bluff.”

That’s the constant refrain from the Santa Ysabel tribe, but so far it looks like a bluff, it smells like a bluff, and it has behaved like a bluff. So in between tweets about Rummy laws in India and the origins of the word of “poker” the PrivateTable.com Twitter account has offered little in the way of an explanation as to why this isn’t a bluff.

If it’s not a bluff, why have there been multiple delays when all the pieces look to be in place?

The Kahnawake tribe (your regulatory body) is old hat with online poker sites. The delays cannot be regulatory in nature.

The tribe is saying they have experienced “bumps along the road” in regards to performance and don’t want to launch and then have to fix these issues (read as: software issues), but this simply doesn’t make much sense considering the software they are using is already in use at several other online poker rooms offering real money and there isn’t a regulatory body calling for changes.

Question #4: Show me the money?

The Santa Ysabel tribe tried to file for bankruptcy when they closed their brick & mortar casino earlier this year, but were denied bankruptcy protection and are therefore still sitting on millions of dollars of debt.

So my last question is: Where did the tribe come up with the funding to lease the software from IG Soft, to hire and retain the payment processor FinPay, and to get licensed by the Kahanwake tribe in Canada?

Where is the money to retain Owens and other experts coming from? The money to market and promote Private Table?

Furthermore, who is going to pay to fight the inevitable legal battles the tribe will be confronted when they launch?

Why these questions need to be answered

If the Santa Ysabel tribe can satisfactorily answer these questions then we can have a conversation about the implications of their launching in California and what it means for U.S. online gaming moving forward –a conversation I would love to have.

But until these questions are answered it’s hard to read their pronouncements as anything but a bluff, with the tribe’s real motivations being unclear.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a longtime member of the online gambling industry. He covers the regulated US online casino and poker industries for variety of publications, including OnlinePokerReport.com, PlayNJ.com, USPoker.com, and USA Today.

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