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Indian Tribes Oppose Online Gambling in California

Written by:
Guest
Published on:
Jan/14/2010

PALM SPRINGS - After the California Nations Indian Gaming Association chairman called for unity at the Western Indian Gaming Conference on Wednesday, tribes began to tackle the complicated issue of legalizing Internet poker in the state.

 

Tribes have been polarized since the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and four card rooms formed an alliance to try to get legislation introduced last year to legalize Internet poker for Californians.

 

Association chairman Daniel Tucker said the mission of the annual meeting at the Palm Springs Convention Center was to build consensus on Internet poker issues, saying the federal push to legalize online gaming threatens the economic livelihoods tribes worked to build over the past 25 years.

 

"Your involvement is essential,'' said Tucker, the chairman of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.

 

Consensus-building began in earnest, prompting former state Sen. Jim Battin to predict an Internet poker bill could arrive sometime this year.

 

"It will only work if there's one front,'' he said. "The last time, it became divisive because it came on so quick."

 

Morongo Chairman Robert Martin said the statewide effort began as a way to derail a move made last fall when Congress threatened to tack a piece of "damaging Internet poker legislation" onto the federal health care bill, sensing it was "steaming ahead like a greased locomotive."

 

With federal lawmakers acting as if they'd "found a $40 billion pot of gold," Martin said his tribe near Cabazon felt rapid action was needed to keep Congress from robbing tribes of their ability to successfully compete in the online marketplace.

 

"Steps had to be taken to protect financial interests against erosion from offshore companies and Las Vegas corporations,'' Martin said, and the threat has not gone away.

 

"We rushed to Congress to beat back a bill that would have restricted our participation,'' he said. "That is why we were simultaneously working in Sacramento on our own California Internet poker legislation."

 

But questions loomed large over exclusivity protections for tribes, compact protections, impacts to existing casinos and the relationship struck with California card rooms, including California Commerce Club, the Bicycle Club and Hollywood Park.

 

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Morongo's postponement has enabled everyone to step back to get better acquainted with the issues, Martin said.

 

It's also been flagged as a potential state budget bailout, Battin said. "With the budget deficit being what it is," this bill holds potential to advance if revenue sharing strings are attached.

 

Still, discussions continue to be characterized as fragile - so much so that Palm Springs-based Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians tribal council chairman Richard Milanovich questioned the wisdom of having media present during the question session.

 

Milanovich suggested this could thwart the opportunity for a frank exchange of views. He conceded after hearing that Friday was set aside for confidential exchange with tribal leaders. It also has been noted that California card room officials would be on hand to field questions as well.

 

Later, Milanovich said the request was made because some of the dialogue might involve strategy and "how best to deal with issues that are raised."

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