California Tribes Double Down on Opposition to PokerStars

sealofCaliforniaOn April 23rd the California State Assembly will host what they are calling an informational hearing to discuss online poker in the Golden State, and PokerStars is expected to be one of the most hotly debated topics.

The hearing will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the State Capitol, Room 4202.

The agenda for the “Public Policy and Fiscal Implications of Authorizing Intrastate Internet Poker in California” hearing has not been set at this time, and while PokerStars is unlikely to be officially mentioned, the company will certainly be referenced throughout, particularly if the discussion turns toward bad actor clauses.

The rumors linking PokerStars with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and several key California cardrooms (The Commerce Casino, The Bicycle Casino, and Hawaiian Gardens) were recently affirmed when Rational Group Head of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser issued a statement rebutting the claims made by several tribal groups that PokerStars does not deserve a seat at California’s online poker table.

The first wave of criticism

Leslie Lohse, the Chairperson on the California Tribal Business Association (CTBA) was the first to publicly oppose the potential deal between PokerStars, the Morongo Tribe, and the trifecta of LA-based California card-rooms, emphatically stating that the “bad actor” language should remain in the proposed bills in a March 21 press release.

Lohse’s comments were echoed in a joint statement signed by a coalition of 12 California tribes and dated March 26, which read in part, “… our tribal governments are united in our steadfast opposition to the easing of regulatory standards that would accommodate bad actors…”

PokerStars responds

In the PokerStars response from Hollreiser, the company called these (mis)characterizations as coming from, “… certain groups who want to use the Legislature to gain a competitive market advantage and to limit competition.” In the statement Hollreiser went on to say, “These groups are misrepresenting the Unlawful Internet Enforcement Gambling Act (UIGEA) and PokerStars’ past U.S. operations… in order to avoid what should be fair competition.”

Lohse cranks up the heat

In a second statement released on Wednesday, Lohse was far more overt in her condemnation of PokerStars, beginning with the rhetorical question, “Nevada doesn’t want them. New Jersey rejected them. So now they’re knocking on California’s door?” before firing a high and tight fastball at PokerStars:

“As a reminder, this is the group that refused to shutter its site, even after the enactment of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), making online gambling illegal. In 2011, the Department of Justice issued orders mandating the site close down, filed a civil action to seize the company’s assets acquired post-UIGEA, and threatened imprisonment alleging, among other things, Conspiracy, Money Laundering, Bank Fraud and violations of the Wire Act. In settlement, they paid a $731 million fine, but admitted no wrongdoing.”

The statement from Lohse finished with a strong warning, likely directed as much at the legislature as at PokerStars and their potential partners, saying, “CTBA will strongly oppose any legislation that allows for bad actors…”

In a year when hopes are high for California online poker legislation, this strong opposition has the potential to derail online poker talks in California.

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