Earlier this year a bill was introduced in California that would follow in the footsteps of states such as New Jersey and legalize internet gambling. That process suffered a setback in early August, however, when the bill was shelved until 2015 because it’s author didn’t feel there was enough time left in the legislative session to properly refine it.
That bill was one of two introduced with the intent of bringing internet poker to the Golden State, but due to the unlikelihood of either receiving the necessary two-thirds vote to pass in their current forms they are being put on the back burner until next year. One of the major players in the debate is the Native American tribes currently allowed to operate casinos on their land in the state. As Gambling.com‘s overview of gambling in California points out, gambling has been allowed on tribal lands since 1987, and the state has been one of the least restrictive in the nation when it comes to gambling. The allure of internet gambling is obvious in such an environment, and that same overview correctly predicted that Native American tribes would actively pursue that avenue.
The importance of public support is not lost on the tribes, however, leading them to issue the following statement: “Instilling public confidence in the integrity of State-sanctioned Internet poker is a fundamental principle of ours. To that end and in consultation with the bill authors, our tribal leaders have concluded that rushing a bill in the closing days of this legislative session will not allow for the level of careful public examination and confidence an issue of this magnitude requires.”
While the tribes seem to agree that more time is needed to get the bills right, at least one has decided they don’t need to wait for them to pass in order to bring online poker to the state. For nearly a month, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel have been running a play money internet poker site called PrivateTable. The site is now planning to transition to real-money poker offerings by the end of August.
The lack of a state law allowing such a site to exist has been a frequent source of questions and concerns since the announcement was made, but the Santa Ysabel gaming Commission is citing tribal law as justification. A FAQ on their website has the following to saw on the matter: “Class II gaming, such as poker, have been exclusively regulated by tribes in California since 1999. Absent a specific state prohibition on this type of gambling activity, which does not currently exist in California, tribes are free to engage in this activity as long as the activity is regulated by the tribe as described in the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Santa Ysabel’s online gambling, as designed, is in compliance with both state and federal law.”
Essentially, Santa Ysabel has decided to set up their own regulatory system in the absence of one established by the state while declaring sovereignty under established tribal gaming compacts. Some question the legality of such a course of action, but the gaming commission has declared confidence in their position.
All of this is good news for poker-playing residents of California. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the PrivateTable site will be live for play within the week, while next year’s round of legislation could greatly expand the scope of online poker in the state. Success in states like California and New Jersey can also serve as examples to other states considering legalization, which can only been seen as a positive for poker players across the United States.