Tribes Split Over California Bid to Regulate, Tax Online Poker

Capital Public Radio 8.22.11

A fierce battle over online gaming is brewing at the California Capitol, with an informational hearing set for Wednesday.

By  Ben Adler

(Sacramento, CA) - Some Native American tribes and card rooms are going all-in on a measure that would let them set up poker websites.  But many other tribes say they're being left out.

This is one political issue that's splitting California tribes - with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.  About a quarter of the state's federally-recognized tribes want to partner with card rooms to get ahead of the online gaming curve.  Some lawmakers see an opportunity for California to get ahead too.  Senator Lou Correa, an Orange County Democrat, says the state should regulate and tax online poker.  He says it could bring in up to $250 million.

Correa: "If California doesn't move ahead right now, the federal government will supersede California by passing their laws first, and we will essentially be left with very little revenue - compared with what we can have if we're the first one to implement the laws."

But the majority of tribes worry they'll be left behind by the tribes that support the bill.  For example, Correa's measure would have the state charge $55 million to each group that applies to set up a poker site.  Critics say the coalition of tribes and card rooms that supports the bill has that money - and the other tribes don't.

Smith: "It's always the ones that have been around for a long time - they think they're the biggest, baddest around and they want to keep that monopoly."

Robert Smith is the chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians in Northern San Diego County.  He wants the Correa bill put on hold until next year, to give his and other tribes time to help shape the regulatory system and create an even playing field.

Smith: "It is going to happen sooner or later.  Probably later, but it is going to happen - so we need to be involved."

Correa's bill is one of two internet gaming measures at the Capitol.  He hopes to get his bill through the legislature before lawmakers adjourn for the year on September 9th.  But that prospect faces long odds - the bill has yet to pass a single committee test.

Pala Band of Mission Indians

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