RIVERSIDE COUNTY TRIBE PROPOSES ALLIANCE WITH CARD CLUBS
A Riverside County tribe is pushing for a law that would allow gamblers in California to play poker over the Internet. But some San Diego County tribes oppose the move, saying it will be bad for their businesses.
The Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians, which owns Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in central Riverside County, is leading the effort, arguing that millions of gamblers already play online and that legalizing it would generate revenue for the cash-starved state.
A spokesman for the Morongo tribe said the proposal also would offer better consumer protections than the unregulated Web sites that exist offshore and largely out of reach of federal law.
Under the proposal, the Morongo tribe and others would run an Internet poker operation jointly with several Los Angeles-area card clubs. The state would get an as-yet-undetermined percentage of the winnings.
Patrick Dorinson, the spokesman for the Morongo tribe, declined to talk specifically about how much the state would get and other details of the proposal because it is still being developed.
"The state would get some revenue," Dorinson said. "But I don't want to give a percentage because there isn't a formal bill."
No lawmaker has signed on to sponsor the bill, Dorinson said.
The Viejas Band of Mission Indians, an influential tribe that owns a casino in eastern San Diego County, is one of several in the region that opposes the plan.
"This proposal represents an unprecedented expansion of gambling and could have serious negative consequences," Viejas spokesman Robert Scheid said. "There are serious constitutional, financial, legal, regulatory and other questions that need to be addressed carefully and deliberately before this scheme goes any further."
Opponents and supporters met last week with representatives for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said Camille Anderson, a spokeswoman for the governor.
She said Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the matter.
Cheryl Schmit, director of the gambling watchdog group Stand Up for California, said the Legislature has no authority to enact such a law. She said it would have to be approved by voters in a statewide ballot similar to the one that legalized gambling on tribal lands in 2000.
"It's ugly," Schmit said, referring to the proposal. "It just seems like Morongo is willing to sacrifice the monopoly it has, so that they can be the operating entity of Internet gambling in the state to the detriment of all the other tribes."
In 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which prohibited banks and credit card companies from transferring money for Internet gambling, in effect banning online gambling.
However, the law left open the door for states to allow Internet gambling within the state's boundaries, according to a Legislative Analyst opinion related to a bill last year.
Last year, Assembly Bill 2026, by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Los Angeles, asked state gambling regulators to study what regulations would be necessary to legalize Internet poker games. The bill was gutted in late August and the subject of the legislation was changed to outdoor advertising.
David Quintana, the legislative director for the California Tribal Business Alliance, an industry group that represents several gambling tribes, said allowing Internet poker in the state would violate the promise tribes made to state voters to keep gambling within Indian reservations.
The alliance is made up of seven California gambling tribes, including the Pala Band of Mission Indians and the Pauma Band of Mission Indians in North County.
Pala Chairman Robert Smith signed a letter on behalf of the alliance urging lawmakers to oppose legalizing Internet poker in part because "other casino-style games will follow."
Quintana said he believes that a draft of the bill being circulated among Indian tribes would allow poker machines to be set up anywhere in the state.
"This opens up gambling anywhere," Quintana said. "There's no tie to Indian land, and that's not what we promised voters in the state of California."
"It's important to note that this is not brick and mortar," he said. "This is not building new casinos." (Credit: North County Times)
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