Partnership With Morongo Does Not Guarantee PokerStars Entry into California iGaming Market

Posted By Robert DellaFave on April 25, 2014

Leave it to PokerStars to crash an otherwise cordial gathering of state legislators and influential figures in the gaming space.

That’s exactly what happened this week at an online poker hearing held by the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization. Mere minutes before Chairman Robert Martin of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians was scheduled to give his address, a press release was circulated to those in attendance. I believe the phrase “PokerStars is back b*tch,” sums up the context of the release nicely.

More specifically, PokerStars confirmed its long rumored alignment with the Morongo tribe and three of California’s largest cardrooms in the Bicycle, the Commerce Club and Hawaiian Gardens Casino.

Only after a proper level of chaos was achieved did Martin began voicing his staunch opposition to the inclusion of a “bad actor” clause.

But before we start celebrating (or denouncing) PokerStars return to the U.S., consider that the agreement between PokerStars and the Morongo in no way, shape or form guarantees PokerStars a spot on California’s iGaming roster.

AB 2291 and SB 1366 contain bad actor provisions

Two online poker bills were submitted at this year’s legislative deadline, both of which call for gaming operators that accepted U.S. players post-UIGEA to be prohibited from participating in the state’s regulated online poker market. PokerStars, that means you.

In order for PokerStars to be granted permission to service California and its approximately 38 million residents, the language of the bill would first have to be revised. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if an overwhelming majority of California’s gaming factions thought PokerStars reentry into the states was a good idea.

But…

PokerStars faces nearly universal opposition

Following the rumors of PokerStars suspected involvement with the Morongo, a conglomerate of twelve Calfornia tribes gathered to oppose the exclusion of a “bad actor” provision from any regulated online poker proposal.

If that weren’t evidence enough of the uphill battle PokerStars would face on the road to approval, how about this: At the conclusion of Martin’s speech, there was a brief pause, followed by an uproar, as legislators began pleading with the tribes to remain strong in their conviction against “bad actors.”

In this day and age, it’s become exceedingly rare for state politicians and tribal factions to be in near universal agreement regarding the constituents of a bill. But in the case of a “bad actor” clause, everyone but those aligned with PokerStars seems to agree that its removal would be a “bad” idea.

Again, leave it to PokerStars to bring people together, even if it’s in steadfast disapproval.

California tribes likely concerned about more than just market integrity

Let’s face it, the whole “bad actor” debate is probably less about integrity than it is about competition.

Should PokerStars establish its exemplary brand of online poker in California, I’m hard-pressed to believe that any other gaming operator/land-based casino duo would stand a chance. Subtract PokerStars from the equation, and suddenly anyone with a gaming partner and a dream has a shot to become the dominant market leader.

Otherwise it’s like a mom-and-pop lumber shop going head-to-head with Home Depot.

In my humble opinion, it’s for the aforementioned reason, and not upholding integrity, that California’s tribes will be more compelled to hold their ground, at least for a while longer.

“Bad actor” removal does not guarantee PokerStars reentry

One needn’t look further than what happened in New Jersey to know that a partnership with a brick & mortar casino, or in this case casino group, is not a necessarily a gateway to guaranteed approval.

“Bad actor” clause or not, if the state’s regulatory committee finds PokerStars unfit for a license, it won’t get one – plain and simple.

And let’s not forget that in order to even get to the point where PokerStars would be considered for a permit, a bill would have to pass through California’s government first.

Yes friends, PokerStars is going to have to dodge more bullets Phil Hellmuth.

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Robert DellaFave

Robert DellaFave writes for a variety of online gaming sites and is also working on programming a poker simulation creative enough to beat the best. Follow Robert on Twitter @DivergentGames and on Google+

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