California Online Poker Stalemate Shifts as San Manuel Exits PokerStars Coalition

Updated: April 29th, 2017 by Dev Ops

The stalemate between a hardline group of California’s casino-operating tribal nations seeking to bar the PokerStars brand from participation in California’s online-gambling future and a rival group comprised of Stars and several casinos and cardrooms hoping to work with the online giant may have shifted this week slightly in the hardline group’s favor.  The reason: The departure of one of the two main tribal nations seeking to work with PokerStars from the Stars-led group, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

The San Manuel departure from the Stars-centered group wasn’t officially announced by any of the entities involved, but was instead leaked to poker news outlet Online Poker Report via private e-mail.  OPR quoted Jacob Coin, San Manuel’s executive director of public affairs, as stating, “Because this effort has taken so long and required so much tribal effort and attention … San Manuel has decided to turn to other tribal issues at this time and has thus terminated its participation in the coalition.”

Coin added, “San Manuel wishes every success to the remaining coalition members and appreciates the fine and effective working relationship it has had with all of them. No inferences of any kind should be drawn from its decision to withdraw from the coalition.”

The most direct reason that San Manuel’s departure weakens the pro-PokerStars coalition is that it now contains only one politically powerful, casino-operating tribe, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.  It’s unlikely that the hardline coalition, led by the Pechanga, Agua Caliente, and Viejas tribal nations, could pass an online-poker bill without the Morongos’ cooperation, but it’s also for sure that they’re likely to try.  The three LA card-room partners of PokerStars — Commerce, Bicycle, and Hawaiian Gardens — might not possess the political muscle to offset a Pechanga-led power play without Morongo cooperation and assistance.

Then again, the Morongo tribe has some cause to ve affronted with the Pechanga coalition’s tactics.  Back in 2014, Jerome Encinas, a tribal lobbyist working on behalf of some of the hardline group’s nations, famously said, “We can roll Morongo, no problem,” regarding passing legislation to block Morongo’s would-be partner, PokerStars.

“No problem” or not, Morongo to date has held firm in the Stars camp.

Yet there’s fatigue all around.  Not only has the San Manuel tribe severed its formal relationship with PokerStars, citing nine years of trying to get an online poker bill passed in California without success (though only two and a half years of that was as a presumptive Stars partner), but right now, for the first legislative year in a while, there’s currently no online poker bill on the table in Sacramento.  Those legislators that have championed legalization bills in the past, including State Rep. Reginald Jones-Sawyer, have apparently tired of butting their heads against this particular wall.

So what’s next?  It’s unlikely that any bill supporting PokerStars’ preferred position, meaning no legislatively proscribed sit-out period or fine, can muster widespread support.  It’s also unlikely that a bill seeking to bar Stars can pass, even though that scenario is somewhat more likely, depending on what the Morongo nation does.  Eventually, it might be up to PokerStars and its parent company, Amaya, to challenge any bill that’s passed that seeks to bar the companynand its world-leader brand from the California market.  Such a legal battle seems assured if such a Stars-barring bill is ever signed into law, since the Golden State (and the rest of the US) figures so prominently into Stars’ long-term plans.

For now, though, it’s the back burner for the California online-poker news cycle.  Partnerships come and go, but the root probblems remain, and the US’s most populous state isn’t close to figuring those things out.

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