Opposition to PokerStars in California Has Not Subsided

Written By Steve Ruddock on October 30, 2014
California is left idling in midst of iGaming legalization search

Progress has been made on a number of fronts in California but it doesn’t appear a compromise on Bad Actor clauses is coming anytime soon.

In a lengthy interview with iGaming Business, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians Chairman Mark Macarro stated the purchase of PokerStars by Amaya Gaming changes “nothing,” when it comes to PokerStars potential involvement in California iPoker.

Macarro’s full, yet concise response was, “Nothing. That’s my one-word answer. Nothing,” which along with several utterances (four in fact, which you can see below) of, “strictly limited and regulated online poker,” seems to indicate little has changed from the summer.

“we remain committed to legislation that provides for strictly limited and regulated online poker in California,”

“we are going to work towards passage of the bill that provides for a limited and regulated online poker framework,”

“working with the state… to provide for a strictly regulated and limited online poker environment,”

“Our focus is on providing limited, regulated online poker on an intrastate basis.”

The Pechangas are just one of 13 tribes that coalesced around their opposition to PokerStars and their quartet of partners, the Morongo band of Mission Indians, Bicycle Casino, Commerce Casino, and Hawaiian Gardens Casino.

While the Bad Actor / Tainted Assets debate is a major hurdle (one of three Macarro cited in the interview), there are also several other issues that will also need to be sorted out, including who will be allowed to participate in the California online poker industry – and who will be left out in the cold.

The Bad Actor Debate Could Be Settled 3,000 miles Away

Oddly, California’s final decision on PokerStars will likely be heavily influenced by the outcome of PokerStars license application 3,000 miles away in New Jersey.

While PokerStars is calling for lawmakers to craft a bill that would leave their potential involvement in the hands of regulators (as it is in New Jersey), PokerStars’ opponents want that decision made at the legislative level and included in the bill (as it is in Nevada).

The general consensus seems to be that if PokerStars is approved by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJ DGE) it will help quell the opposition in California. Conversely, if for some reason PokerStars is denied a New Jersey iGaming license (which seems unlikely but not out of the realm of possibility), their chances in California would suffer a crushing blow.

A lot of this will come down to timing.

If PokerStars is approved by the NJ DGE prior to bills being introduced they are less likely to contain sweeping Bad Actor / Tainted Asset language in my opinion. If PokerStars future in New Jersey is still up in the air there may be a more concerted push from their California opponents to have strong Bad Actor language written into the bill.

One interesting side note to this story is that while land-based interests in California have come out full throated against PokerStars, the iGaming companies PokerStars would compete against have taken a softer stance.

888 CEO Brian Mattingley feels PokerStars should spend a year or two in the Penalty Box due what Mattingley sees as the unfair advantage of operating in the U.S. from 2006-2011. “They shouldn’t be allowed to walk into new states,” Mattingley told me in an interview back in August. “one year, 18 months, or two years” would be appropriate in Mattingley’s eyes.

Another potential California competitor, bwin.party, also appears to be against Bad Actor clauses.  Group Director of Poker Jeffrey Haas had a rather interesting answer to the question of bwin.party’s stance on Bad Actor clauses in California when I spoke to him earlier this month, saying only, “this is a matter for the regulators to decide.”

What makes this such an interesting take is that Haas’s statement is almost word-for-word what PokerStars and their partners have been saying on the matter, “Let the regulators regulate.”

Another Interesting comment by Macarro

One of the more interesting statements made by the Pechanga Tribal Chair during the iGaming Business interview was in reference to partnerships. When asked why the tribe hasn’t followed the lead of the Morongos (PokerStars) or the United Auburn Indian Community (partypoker) and declared their iGaming partner, Macarro coyly intimated that the tribe already has a partner in place:

“The truth of it is that we haven’t publicized our efforts… Pechanga will be ready to effectively compete… So rest assured, that’s the primary difference – we haven’t publicised that.”

Who might this “secret” partner be?

There are several potential candidates.

888 has been a driving force in the U.S. online poker market, and since their national partner Caesars doesn’t operate a casino in California they are a logical fit.

It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that partypoker could partner with Pechanga along with UAIC and perhaps other tribes/cardrooms to create a similar network such as the one PokerStars is planning.

And there is always the possibility that the answer is C) None of the above, and the Pechanga partnership will be a curveball.

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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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